Mainstream is used as a pejorative expression by the Left and Right—now more so by the latter. When it comes to an actual stream, contours and springs and riparian features control the main stem of a waterway. It is really difficult to create a new mainstream. In my experience living along a river, it requires a major flood event and you will not necessarily be happy with the outcome.
I would suggest, in politics, that the revolutionists on the Left and Right put away the earth-moving equipment. They might begin by asking, “what is the optimal point of leverage in a winning formula?” Martial arts instructors might be consulted. If a small force is to fell a large one, speed and agility must be used to counter inertia and the aim must be true.
In politics, however, some patience is essential and it will take more than good marketing to have any lasting effect. Coherence will be needed. At the risk of over-simplification, let me get started.
The Left of the Democratic Party has done very well. Bernie Sanders, a US Senator from a very small State, Vermont, who calls himself a Socialist understood the power of words passionately repeated over many years. Using a gift bag of promises he aimed unsparingly at the inevitable inequalities in a capitalist society. He didn’t worry about national debt and when pinned down on funding simply called for more taxes on the wealthy. He always had useful anecdotes.
The Right, in the latter part of the 20th Century, turned to an actor with a winsome way to deliver the hard lessons of human experience. He, Ronald Reagan, convincingly paired success with effort while calling on the government to expand the freedom to prosper. Lower taxes and fewer regulations paired with school choice were core elements.
Sanders is now mostly in the rearview mirror and Reagan has taken his place in the history books. Both left lessons. And the times, they have changed.
Sanders paired himself with the “left behinds” and created a coalition of minority identity groups. And, in his personal life he pretty much lived his creed.
Reagan had moved from acting to heading the actor’s union, to being California’s Governor and accumulated valuable lessons along the way. And for a time, the Reagan-way was the Republican-way. Both were good storytellers; especially Reagan. And their stories were mostly coherent—they held together.
Now both Parties are looking for new leaders—President Biden and former President Trump are clearly beyond their prime. As is the passionate Sanders, who pulled Biden to the left. Neither Trump nor Biden appear to want to leave the stage, but next acts are crowding each other at stage left.
Republicans, now in a convulsive state, are the most interesting. Their leader’s narrative is centered on grievance. He has fellow grievers, but he did not build. He attacked Reagan but was smart enough to leave his name out. He was too much in love with himself. Over time MAGA converted to MTGA (MAKE TRUMP GREAT AGAIN).
As circuses in recent years have eliminated animal acts, a German circus “takes theirs to the next level — with spectacular holograms”. Animal holograms. The Republicans need a new act and, if it is to have an enduring quality, the philosophical and operational narratives will need to be understandably paired.
And the Party will need a leader whose purpose is to build a coalition of voters. Repudiation of Republicans in Name Only (RINOS) will have to be replaced—repudiation subtracts. Addition is required.
In-fighting over minor rewards are underway. Kevin McCarthy, do you really want to lead an 8-seat majority in the House? And as the fight to head the Republican National Committee (RNC) plays out, it is clear whoever wins will dance to someone else’s tune.
In days gone by the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus retreated to its winter quarters in Sarasota as winter approached. The performers and animals had some time off. New themes were developed. This winter will be a real trapeze act in the Republican party.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.