Republicans Are in a Box of Their Own Making
One of the more interesting and — at the same time — anxiety-producing aspects of our current politics in the United States is the abundance of paradoxes. My brain struggles to hold two opposing ideas as true at the same time.
On the one hand, I believe the current Republican party is an existential threat to our republic as long as it is in the thrall of Trumpism. On the other, how it got to this point predates Trump and with the addition of Trumpism after 2016, I suspect that its long-term prospects for a national-level majority are poor. The party’s history since the early 1990s and its embrace of Trump in the last seven years have sewn the seeds for long-term marginalization.
Part 1: The death of the “loyal opposition”
I believe the origin of our current political state was the Republican Congressional majority elected in 1994. It marked what I call the death of the loyal opposition. Prior to that time, both parties managed the balance of wanting the country’s affairs to continue with relative stability with wanting their side to win. This was perhaps most famously demonstrated by President George H.W. Bush’s letter to Bill Clinton when the latter assumed the presidency in January 1993.
With the new Congress elected in 1994, this balance was abandoned; winning became the top goal. The opening salvo in this new form of political warfare was the federal government shutdown in 1995–96. The practice continued with the 2013 shutdown during the Obama administration. Standard and Poor’s estimated that the 2013 shutdown reduced GDP and took $24 billion out of the economy.
With the stable operation of the government taking second place to winning against the opposition, this meant that opposition was required as long as the GOP was not in power. Even in power, compromise was no longer required.
We’ll revisit this idea of full-time opposition in a moment.