The 2016 election represented a fundamental shift in American politics. Donald Trump’s ability to successfully position himself as a Republican who publicly repudiated traditional right-wing ideas such as free trade and limited government reconfigured the traditional two-party divide. America now has two parties that embrace a strong, managerial federal government.
This is not a phenomenon solely dependent on Trump; he simply spearheaded the movement. An observation of Congressional Republican opposition to Obamacare—which slowly morphed from complete opposition to federally-regulated health insurance on principle to a conciliatory attitude of compromise that rejected some parts of the legislation but promised to replace popular benefits—is all the evidence necessary to see how the right has fallen down the slippery slope they’ve long descried.
Yet, the party is far from unified. Petty personal rivalries threaten to dominate the Republican majority in the legislative and executive branches. In some ways, this is a positive. The division will act as a check upon one-party rule. In other ways, it is intensely alarming. There is an urge for loyalty, evidenced in the fierce backlash from Trump surrogates like Kellyanne Conway and Newt Gingrich against the inclusion of former skeptics in the administration, which is particularly pernicious as it conflates respect for the office of the presidency with devotion to the man who holds the office.
To capitalize on the 2016 victory, Congressional Republicans need to ignore the pressure which will be exerted by the federal branch and be firm in their demands. They must remember that they are a separate branch of government with different functions and priorities; their first loyalty is to passing legislation grounded in party principles which promotes the good of the American electorate.
The political narrative cannot become focused on intraparty fighting and a beleaguered president shackled by a Congress which refuses to go along. Friction is supposed to exist between coequal branches of government. It is what slows down government and prevents the tyrannical overrule of a strong executive whose case for using sweeping unilateral powers rest on precedent which dates as far back as the 1940s.
With full control over the government, this is the perfect opportunity for Republicans to rebrand themselves, so to speak. For years, party elites have been telling the ideological purists in the party to hold their noses and vote for imperfect candidates. Once the party has power, we were told, we can rededicate ourselves.
So, enough of the talking down to minority schools of thought in the party whose belief in principles was derogatorily branded as “virtue signaling.” A party that looks down their nose at political virtue is a party doomed to destruction. The power-lust which has driven the party for the past four years should have been sated by the sweeping victory of 2016. It is time for Republicans to make good on their promise to govern in accordance with right-wing principles.
Republicanism is a virtue-driven political theory. It holds representative democracy as an ideal which preserves the rights of the people and allows government to be organized in a manner that is functional yet responsive to the views of constituents. It is federalistic, recognizing that society is complex and multi-leveled and that a division of powers which lets political issues be resolved as closely to where they originated as possible makes attaining the ideal most feasible. The party needs to reclaim this vision and promote it in everything it does over the course of the next four years. First and foremost, this necessitates boldness in statement and action, not kowtowing to the president in order to keep a hold on power.