The Future of the Republican Party (not an oxymoron)

A friend recently posed to me an interesting logic question related to partisanship: If you label yourself a Republican, and the Republican Party is associated with certain values and certain policy positions, are you by default endorsing those values and positions? And if those values and positions have been alleged to contribute to certain societal inequalities, by labeling yourself as a Republican, are you by default endorsing the deliberate reinforcement of those inequalities?

My friend argued yes. I argued passionately, and defensively, no.

I say passionately because, as someone who calls herself a Republican, this is an issue that directly affects me. I say defensively because, as someone who frequently disagrees with many of her fellow partisans, I may appear to some — and certainly did appear to my friend — to be a raging hypocrite.

I understand why my friend feels this way. He is proud of his party. When he says “I am a Democrat,” he etches his initials on every plank of the Democratic National Committee’s platform. He assumes that others do the same.

But truthfully, his approach to partisan politics is the exception, not the rule. In a recent Gallup poll, only 37% of Americans said that they feel the major political parties “are doing an adequate job of representing the American people.” I find this number alarming, particularly considering the unambitious standard of success — adequate — chosen by Gallup. That being said, although I would prefer political parties that do an adequate, and even exceptional, job of representing our citizenry, I am hardly surprised by these results. The American people subscribe to a dizzyingly expansive spectrum of political ideologies that simply cannot be captured by a binary party system. It is unreasonable to expect 300 million people of all backgrounds and minds to neatly sort themselves into one bucket or the other. Thus, our political parties have mutated into collections of tangentially related ideological cells, constantly shifting and spawning new growths.

The Republican Party recognizes and even embraces this phenomenon, calling itself the “big tent” party. A circus indeed. The Better Care Reconciliation Act fiasco is evidence enough that the Republican Party is fractured to a fault, broken into the Tea Party, the establishment, the alt-right, traditionalists, businessmen, the religious right, and countless other factions. Each has pushed and shoved and rubbed until our glue, our founding philosophies, wore thin with friction and neglect. Now, the entire ensemble threatens to crumble; my party, pulled from so many different directions, is in desperate need of repair.

We humans like to abandon broken things. Broken things are a lot of work. But the Republican Party is not a sagging couch, tired from supporting too much weight, to be left on the side of the road. It may be broken, but I am not ready to let it rot. It is time to replace stretched springs and reupholster faded cloth.

I look at this Grand Old Mess, and I see a Republican Party reminded of its commitment to localism and self-determination. I see a Republican Party that protects individual rights, including the right to love or to not love and the right to worship or to not worship. I see a Republican Party that supports citizens to be the best they can be. I see a Republican Party that forgives. I see a Republican Party that is pragmatic yet empathetic. I see a Republican Party informed by history but with eyes on the future.

I don’t think I am a hypocrite for loving a broken thing, or rather, for loving that which a broken thing has the potential to be.

Join me on my couch, please. It’s a little rough around the edges at the moment, but if we all work together, I think it will be quite nice.