Reality: most people are too busy living their life—working, parenting, romancing, or whatever, to do much more than surf political news. Until faced with voting, most surfing is done with a limited horizon while too often the news media is focusing on dissipating waves that at a distance seem large.
Donald Trump’s reelection bid is one of those. Who knew that he would announce and then hole up in Mar De Lago. Or, what about George Santos the newly elected Congressman from Long Island, New York who is the Bernie Madoff of politics?
And then weary after a long day you pick up the phone and a pollster starts asking questions as if you are paying attention. And in the world of surfing the story about the polling results is a barely noticeable wave. After all every third wave seems to be another poll.
Another reality: the majority of Republicans in the leadership ranks of the Party have no idea what the Party is for. All they know is what it is against and that distills into three words: Woke Progressive Democrats.
Senator Rick Scott, then the US Senator with a title—Chairman National Republican Senatorial Committee—that inferred he should know what the Party stood for tried to spell it out in a 12-point plan for the midterm campaign. The position paper arrived on fire.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell lit the match. The plan included a call for every able-bodied person to pay some federal income tax so they have “skin in the game.” McConnell quickly said he was against any tax increase, which led Scott to pen an Op-Ed which the Wall Street Journal carried:
“I’ve been told there are unwritten rules in Washington about what you can and cannot say. You can’t tell the public that Social Security and Medicare are going bankrupt. You can’t talk about term limits, because, while voters want them, nobody in Washington does. You can’t talk about balancing the budget or shrinking the debt.”
But then Democrats and especially those who are rightly branded as Woke Progressives are the gift that keeps on giving. They are too often attack worthy. Ruy Teixeira who writes and edits a weblog, The Democratic Strategist wrote about his Party: “They apparently think the legislation they are focusing on, plus the association of the GOP with unpopular Trumpian antics, will function as a get-out-of-jail-free card with the electorate, and that their cultural problem can be safely ignored………. Culture matters and the issues to which they are connected matter. They are a hugely important part of how voters assess who is on their side and who is not; whose philosophy they can identify with and whose they can’t. Instead, for working-class voters to seriously consider their economic pitch, Democrats need to convince them that they are not looked down on, that their concerns are taken seriously and that their views on culturally freighted issues will not be summarily dismissed as unenlightened. With today’s party, unfortunately, this will be difficult.”
For example, all but three Democrats voted against a bill to prohibit a health care practitioner from failing to exercise the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion. Allowing a child to die? Identity politics? This time with radical feminists writing the script, leaves “working-class” and many more voters outraged.
Turning back to the Republican Party, the Wall Street Journal asked in an editorial: “What is wrong with Mitch Daniels”; Daniels, the recently retired President of Purdue University, who had earlier been an admired Governor of Indiana is apparently considering a run for a US Senate seat. The editorial noted that “Last week the Club for Growth released an ad preemptively attacking Mr. Daniels as “not the right guy for Indiana………. 50 years in Big Government, Big Pharma and Big Academia, Mitch Daniels forgot how to fight,” the 60 second spot says.
The editorial noted that conservative groups attacking leaders like Mitch Daniels are the “new establishment”. Count me a revolutionary.
One problem the Republican Party has is that when criticism is always the lead then at any given moment the Party is defined by its most vocal critics. And that begins with Donald Trump. Plus, there is a small band of Republican House Members who parrot him on a day-to-day basis. Marjorie Taylor Greene, for example, raced around the House Chambers during the final stages of Speaker selection with an incoming call from Trump.
The Party’s founder Abraham Lincoln understood the folly of harsh attacks noting, “I destroyed my enemy when I made them my friends.” Trump and his acolytes provide their enemies with kindling.
Positions on issues matter, but so do the characteristics of political leaders. Persons of good character will try to find truth. History matters. Research matters. Quick and intuitive minds matter. The world is complicated. Leading requires not just optimal methods of inquiry and decision-making, but selling and negotiating and reaching decisions that can move through the Congress.
Ronald Reagan was reelected in 1984 winning 525 electoral votes and 58.8 percent of the popular vote. He had plenty of critics and the Congressional House was controlled by the Democrats led by Tip O’Neill. Yet he didn’t face the other side as implacable enemies. His winsome approach might be said to be antique, but approaching people as potential allies is superior, disarming.
America’s founders enjoyed rare insights into human nature. The insights resulted in a Republic with interlocking and at times competitive checks and balances. And the early leaders of first a rebellion of colonies and then stitching together a Republic were prepared to lose; even die for their cause. Now back to the present.
If a candidate approached me for more than just money, miraculously, I would ask at least these questions. If you don’t like what is happening on the Southern Border what would you do? If spending is out of control, what would you cease spending on? If you don’t like our support for Ukraine, how would you re-shape our response to Russia? And how should we reorganize the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in its public health role? And for Republicans, which of your Party’s leadership principles do you apply to George Santos?
I still recall vividly the aftermath of 9/11 in a midtown Manhattan church as we all, Christians, Jews and Muslims, locked arms and voices and sung of unity. I would like to see political leaders in 2023 reflect an understanding of that moment.
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.