President Donald Trump changed the national political landscape. Both political parties have internal divisions with the resulting need to pause for reflection as they are forced to take a look at themselves and determine what they will be in the future.
It used to be simpler. Republicans and Democrats stood for different things, though both were closer to the middle and more pragmatic. They were able to provide a check and balance on each other. Some voters complained it was sometimes hard to tell the political parties apart. But there was never much doubt that they ultimately put the country first and were capable of finding common ground on policy differences when needed.
Republicans favored a balanced budget, supported the military, followed foreign policy, felt Russia was a rival and threat, supported law and order, business, capitalism and self-reliance. They believed that everyone who worked hard enough could be successful.
Democrats believed that working together for the common good would yield a better life for everyone. They supported education, small business, unions, a domestic agenda as well as our military. They saw themselves as the inclusive party and worked hard to build consensus. They felt everyone should have the same opportunities, which would benefit all.
After years of suppression, the 1960s brought Black people into political prominence and their desire to have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. Republicans had actually worked to attract minorities to their ranks a few years ago, but that strategy seems to have been discarded. Minority political growth was followed by more women leaders emerging and flexing their political clout.
Then the politics of exclusion and inclusion became more strident. The Republicans responded with the political brilliance of Newt Gingrich’s the “contract with America,” then the Tea Party and “take back our country,” which captured the feeling of many of those who felt left behind, or held a grievance for some reason that Donald Trump was able to exploit. Trump forced people to choose. You were either on his side or not. Republicans moved hard right in just a few years while Democrats drifted more to the left over an extended time frame.
But what will happen to the two parties now? The Republican Party became the party of Trump through personality rather than a binding philosophy. With Trump leaving office, what direction will Republicans choose?
Democrats saw the benefits of inclusion as women and minority voters gave them new power. As a nation, we need both parties to be strong, to balance each other and avoid one-party rule because we are not a one-party country. How do we return to the days when compromise was considered a strength, not a weakness? Trump followers stormed the U.S. Capitol and Trump has favored Russia? But that demonstrates the depth of change. What is the future of the Republican Party?
Will they remain the party of Trump? His hold looks strong now with 87% of Republicans continuing to support him, and two Republican members of Congress from our state, Jaime Herrera-Beutler and Dan Newhouse, were condemned for voting to impeach him. Or will Republicans return to their more moderate past, or turn to a new set of leaders? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — who blames Trump for the loss of the House, Senate and presidency — along with other Republican leaders and several major corporations have sent signals that they are leery of continuing as the party of Trump and are distancing themselves.
Also, the next group of Republican presidential hopefuls are getting impatient to replace Trump and want to lead his loyal voting bloc, though some groups in Trump’s voting bloc may also be discarded. Trump shows no sign of stepping off centerstage willingly. Several Republicans including Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz and former Vice President Mike Pence, would like to be candidates in 2024. Pence attended Biden’s inauguration to send a message that he does not wish to remain in Trump’s shadow.
It won’t be McConnell telling Joe Biden “it’s my job to make you a one-term President” as he did with President Barack Obama, but a second Trump impeachment doesn’t bring the sides closer together either, though the message may be needed for both parties to reestablish a common goal. Will Biden run for a second term? That seems unlikely. If not, the competition for the Democratic nomination may include several familiar and unfamiliar names, with a Jamaican-Indian female Vice President Kamala Harris as the front-runner.
Will Trump run again? That also seems unlikely. Many Republicans and business leaders feel the best opportunity to reclaim the House, Senate and presidency lies with a more traditional president, so the midterms in 2022 may answer many questions as Trump candidates and anti-Trump candidates fight over congressional positions and set the stage for candidates with wide appeal in 2024.
Republicans make up 25% of the voting public, Democrats 41% and independents 34%. Accountability comes in many sizes and shapes and future presidents, including Democrats, need to learn from the Jan. 6 attempt at a coup d’etat that the public expects candidates to act responsibly.
Democrats also need to make changes. First they need to redefine who they are. Are they moderates, liberals or socialists and can they work together? Second, stop using the phrase “defund the police department.” It isn’t going to happen, and it played into the “them vs. us” mentality that needs to be in the past.
Many smart political leaders, such as President Joe Biden, didn’t use the phrase because it suggested lawlessness. We are a country that supports the rule of law and we still need rules and we still need police. The goal should be to ensure police departments are reformed and are trained properly — to think before they shoot. Since 50 states have certified their elections and found no voter fraud, and 60 lawsuits found the same thing, Republicans need to accept that Joe Biden is the president. Can you image the change in temperature if Donald Trump had said that or if he had attended the inauguration? He could have started the healing process. We also need to ensure “truth and facts” come from the leaders of both parties.
Right now, saving our jointly held values, constitution and history is far more important than anything else. The alternative is to sink farther into our respective divisions and sacrifice our position as the world’s leading democracy. If that happens, we all lose.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.