Why the GOP's 'Party of No' Strategy Won't Work

Republican tactics of opposition, purity and discipline come under scrutiny

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Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina is reinvigorating the GOP's Newt Gingrich-era mission. He's returning Republicans to a position as the entrenched opposition and self-declared"party of no," opposing President Obama on every front. This summer, DeMint even said Republicans should make health care reform "Obama's Waterloo." But DeMint's strategy, though effective in Washington, has raised questions about its effectiveness. DeMint's home state of South Carolina is in some turmoil over whether his anti-Obama promotes national party goals at the state's expense. As DeMint leads the charge for a disciplined and ideologically pure GOP, both conservatives and non-conservatives worry about the future of the party.

  • Republican Discipline a Liability, Not Asset  Nate Silver debunks Sen. DeMint's greatest strength. "Certainly, there is an art to vote-whipping -- one which, for instance, Nancy Pelosi understands a lot better than Harry Reid. But also, a lot of it is a question of what long-term price you're willing to pay for short-term gains. And a lot of it is also circumstantial: the smaller your conference and the less ideologically diverse, the easier that loyalty tends to be. If the only two Republican senators were Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint, well then, by golly, they'd be really, really, really disciplined. They'd also be completely powerless to stop the 98 Democrats."
  • A Purer But Smaller DeMint-Led GOP  The New Yorker's Peter Boyer calls DeMint "the de-facto voice of the Republican opposition" who "tapped into the wrath of the conservative base." But Boyer warns that the GOP "has now become a captive of the DeMint wing," the purity of which is "the arithmetic of political defeat." Boyer writes, "There is a risk in a strategy of opposition; too ardently expressed, it can make Republicans seem extreme, as Representative Joe Wilson's 'You Lie!' outburst during the President's health-care speech to Congress on September 9th demonstrated." He concludes, "The question remaining for many Republicans is whether the Party can develop a strategy beyond opposition, an argument for governing that will expand its appeal beyond it ideological core."
  • Opposition-Only Is No Strategy  Conservative blogger Mark Thompson worries. "The conservative wonks simply aren't doing their jobs. What they are doing is picking apart liberal proposals, picking apart conservative proposals, attacking the low-hanging fruit of conservative extremism, and occasionally making suggestions to liberals on ways of either improving liberal proposals or making those proposals more palatable to conservatives. What they are not doing, and largely are not even trying to do, is to drive the GOP agenda. They are, in effect, content to leave the GOP agenda as little more than 'vote no on everything' and tear down whatever the liberals do," he writes. "Should the wonks choose to remain paralyzed in their willingness to engage their own base and to risk angering another leg of that outdated coalition, they will only ensure that Republicans remain incapable of governing on a national level for a longer time than is necessary."
  • Discipline Stifles Innovation  Conservative blogger Rod Dreher argues that an obsession with the party line makes dissent, and thus growth, harder. "You can't convince people to change if they are not willing to take what you have to say seriously. It seems to me that the kind of things people like Frum et alia criticize among the conservative base are things that have to do with the ideological ossification that is preventing the GOP from thinking and acting creatively to change with the times, and to figure out how to make conservatism relevant and responsible in a different set of circumstances than that which brought Reagan to power. As long as the conservative base is more interested in the old custom of heretic-hunting than it is in thinking creatively, dissidents will have little or no power to affect the GOP agenda. And there's not much they can do about it."
  • Theatrics Over Ideas  Former Bush speechwriter Matthew Latimer decries the absence of ideas. "Our Republican Party is gripped with a common Washington affliction: consultant fever. This is a very contagious, bipartisan disease. It causes those in its grip to advance themselves by resorting to tactics and theater rather than the much harder work of explaining to people why our ideas are better. Over the past several years, we’ve let this disease become chronic in the Republican Party. It doesn’t have to be this way."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.