The media’s conventional wisdom holds that Republicans are in disarray and on the verge of imploding. Some pundits have even suggested that the GOP may soon stop functioning as a national party. That this conclusion comes from those whose would welcome the GOP’s failure should lead one to question such analysis. But the assessment is widely reported all the same.
As is often case, however, the conventional wisdom is not only wrong, it is exactly backwards. Far from imploding, the Republican Party is thriving. What’s more, conservatives are the reason why.
The media narrative portrays Republicans as having been radicalized by the election of Barack Obama and embracing increasingly extreme and unpopular positions, thus alienating themselves from most voters.
But the numbers tell a much different story. Since 2008, the GOP has gained 13 seats in the Senate and 69 in the House of Representative, where Republicans now enjoy their largest majority in nearly a century.
And Republicans are at least an even bet to win the White House.
Even more impressively, since Obama took office, Republicans have gained 900 seats in state legislatures. That’s an average of nearly 20 per state. Republicans now control 30 state legislatures, more than double the 14 it controlled in 2009. Republicans hold 31 governorships to the Democrats’ 18. And the GOP has complete control (occupying the governor’s house and holding a majority in both houses of the legislature) of 25 states, against the Democrats’ seven.
On an individual basis, nearly four in ten Americans identify as conservative, while just one in four call themselves liberal, according to Gallup.
Democrats often lament that there are no moderates left in the GOP. But it is in the Democratic Party where moderates are an endangered species. It wasn’t that long ago when pro-life, fiscally responsible “Blue Dog” Democrats had a place in their party. But the number of Blue Dogs in Congress has declined from 54 in 2009 to 15 now.
Today’s most Democrats are now uniformly liberal on almost every issue, which is why former Senator Jim Webb and former Governor Lincoln Chafee seemed so out of place in the Democratic presidential debate, and why they dropped out of the race soon after.
One reason critics point to as evidence that the GOP is in disarray is the internal battle going on in the House Republican caucus. But how is having competition for House leadership positions a sign of implosion?
Critics also point to the success of three political outsiders in the race for the presidency as proof of Republican upheaval. Yes, Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina are anti-establishment Republican outsiders. But, importantly, their policy positions are mostly well within the conservative mainstream. Their candidacies began to rise as a consequence of other, more mainstream candidates failing to pay attention to the issues important to the base.
In fact, I would argue that the failure of leadership in both parties created Trump and the other outsiders, who better understood the issues of importance to millions of Americans.
They all support small government, a strong military and lower taxes. They all oppose abortion, open borders and voice concern with the rise of Islamic extremism. These candidates are popular with Republican primary voters because they are anti-establishment and conservative and, unlike much of the Republican establishment, because they appear willing to fight for conservative values.
Most Republican primary voters are in an anti-establishment mood. And who can blame them? After decades of lackluster Republican presidential nominees who failed to make the case for small government and traditional values, conservative voters are searching for an unapologetic conservative who will stand up for their values.
For decades, conservatives have voted for Republican presidential candidates who they were assured were conservative like themselves. But they have little to show for it. President George H.W. Bush is most known for breaking his pledge not to raise taxes. George W. Bush alienated conservatives by expanding the size and scope of government. Then there were the moderate Republican presidential nominees who lost: Bob Dole, John McCain and Romney.
The popularity of Trump, Carson and Fiorina (and to a lesser degree Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, all of whom rose to prominence as anti-establishment outsiders) is proof that millions of conservative voters have concluded that they have been deceived in some fundamental way and that their only recourse is to find a candidate outside the political mainstream who can credibly argue that they will keep their political promises.
Recent Gallup polls find that three quarters of the public believes corruption is widespread throughout government.
Another recent Gallup poll found that almost half of the public thinks government poses “an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens,” up more than 60 percent since 2003.
In such an atmosphere, it’s no surprise that more and more Americans are looking for answers outside the government establishment. As they do, they won’t be looking for politicians who want to grow government or who seek to maintain the status quo. They’ll be demanding candidates who stand for a smaller, less-intrusive government, and elected leaders who govern as they campaign.
Former Presidential Candidate Gary Bauer is president of American Values, chairman of the Campaign for Working families, and heads up the Christians United for Israel Action Fund. Follow him @GaryLBauer.