Republicans, David Brooks explains, are now “the governing party.” American citizens, by casting votes or by staying home, have put Republicans in charge of almost all political institutions.
Republicans now control 69 of 99 state legislative bodies. Republicans hold 31 governorships to Democrats’ 18.
When the next Congress convenes in January, Republicans will have their largest majority in the House of Representatives since 1931; they will have a majority in the Senate, dominate gubernatorial power in the Midwest, and have more legislative power nationwide than anytime over the past century.
One must add that Republicans do not control the White House or the executive branch of government or the court system.
Be that as it may, many savvy analysts have been arguing that Republicans won the war of ideas. If you think that ideas run the world or that voters are driven to vote or not to vote according to which party has the best ideas, the analysis will resonate.
But, it falls more within the category of idealism than it does traditional conservatism.
Brooks offers a counterargument, in terms, not so much of the ideas but of the social institutions that successful Republican candidates represented.
In his words:
Republicans didn’t establish this dominant position because they are unrepresentative outsiders. They did it because they have deep roots in four of the dominant institutions of American society: the business community, the military, the church and civic organizations.
Outlining the experience of Larry Hogan, David Perdue, Thom Tillis, Bruce Rauner, James Lankford and Tom Cotton—he could have added Joni Ernst—Brooks concludes that they come from the military, business, civic organizations and churches. They are not country-club Republicans.
Let’s pause over some of the institutions mentioned in these mini-bios: IBM, Reebok, the Red Cross, McKinsey and the Army. These are not fringe organizations. These are the pillars of American society.
Republicans won this election in part because they re-established their party’s traditional personality. The beau ideal of American Republicanism is the prudent business leader who is active in the community, active at church and fervently devoted to national defense.
These candidates won in the general election because working-class voters will trust Republican corporate types so long as they are deeply embedded in their communities, so long as they have demonstrated loyalty to the whole society and not just the upper crust.
In truth, Democrats seem to have become the party of the coddled and detached upper crust. The 1%, represented by Silicon Valley and Hollywood threw substantial amounts of money at Democrats.
And Democrat policies have certainly not improved the lives of those who are in the lower classes.
Brooks adds that today’s Republicans need to govern, to be more conciliatory and less confrontational.
In that he is partially right.
Republican governors who have Republican state legislatures must show that they are capable of enacting an agenda and making it work. Since white working class voters went Republican in large numbers, newly elected Republicans must do what is best for them.
But they must also revive the job prospects of members of minority communities. If they do, they will be on the road to a durable majority.
And yet, Republicans were primarily sent to Washington to slow down if not to shut down Barack Obama.
Thus, it makes more sense for Republicans to try to gain bipartisan Congressional support for policies that will undermine the Obama administration.
But current party leaders are talking about incremental progress, finding areas where they can get bipartisan support: on trade, corporate taxes, the XL oil pipeline, the medical devices tax, patent reform, maybe even tax reform generally.