The Republican Party has reached a critical crossroads

October 16, 2023 5:50 am

Former President Donald Trump arrives for an event at the Adler Theatre on March 13, 2023 in Davenport, Iowa (Scott Olson/Getty Images).

Once upon a time there was a Republican Party that was identifiable and recognizable by its policy positions and political principles.

Whether at the state or national level, what defines the Republican Party today?

During its history, it has been known and identified as the party of Abraham Lincoln, and more recently the party of Ronald Reagan.

Today, the party is most frequently identified as the party of Donald Trump.

Trump is known by many labels. A business mogul. A TV personality. Most importantly, he’s known as a U.S. president embroiled, during and after his presidency, in rhetoric and behavior that defy the traditions and institutions on which America was built.

Many of his pronouncements and actions defy and denigrate the Constitution, the rule of law.

When the Republican Party is identified as the party of Lincoln or the party of Reagan, clear images come to mind because of the personification, policies and actions of those two leaders.

In describing the party of Lincoln, it was founded on the basic belief that government should address and do those things that individual states could not do in the areas of education, transportation, social welfare, economic policies.

For nearly 100 years, from the 1860s to the 1960s, the party of Lincoln was considered progressive as it took the lead in addressing issues like the abolition of slavery and Civil Rights.

Decades later, the party became the party of Reagan.

Ronald Reagan’s platform focused on smaller government, lower taxes, promoting free enterprise, strengthening the national defense and emphasizing traditional values.

The party of Reagan can be considered the party that became most known for its conservative principles, policies and agendas.

And now, the party is unquestionably Donald Trump’s.

The former president continues to wield tremendous influence, with a commanding lead over every other 2024 GOP presidential hopeful.

But it must also be noted that there are Republicans who disapprove of Trump and his ongoing vitriolic, false and divisive rhetoric and actions. Many have chosen to leave the party as a result.

All of this has created a situation that embodies the party being at war with itself, as exemplified by the constant misguided priorities and dysfunction of a Republican-led Congress.

The divisive saga around first electing a speaker of the house, and then within nine months of his tenure a small right-wing group of Trump supporters unceremoniously removed him — the first speaker to be deposed in the history of the country — is the latest example.

Here we are nearly two weeks and counting, Republicans have not been able to come together and elect a new speaker, rendering the Congress unable to reconvene and carry out its critical responsibilities for the American people, the most immediate among them how to avoid the looming threat of another government shutdown.

The Congress is also unable to make decisions about how to best deal with the Ukrainian and Israeli wars that are of grave concern to the U.S. and countries across the world.

Despite the sense of urgency of the situations in which the nation finds itself, Congressional leaders seem committed to remain under the influence and following the directions of Trump.

It also should be noted that throughout its history, the Republican Party has eschewed becoming known or adopting the name of leaders who demonstrated a lack of a moral compass or whose policies and practices were more destructive than good.

There was no party of Richard Nixon, for example.

The current Republican Party is at a critical crossroads. It remains to be seen whether the factions will be able to come together, shed their disparate identity, dispel the control of destructive personalities and the extremist views that have it in their clutches.

That will be the only way to put an end to the quagmire of ineffectiveness that has taken control, or to stop the pursuit of policies for small factions and special interests.

Our republic, and democratic form of government, has survived and thrived because the two major political parties, despite deep differences and divisions, found compromise and moved forward — with the overall goal of doing what is in the best interest of the nation and its citizenry.

If the Republican Party cannot get its footing, what kind of party will survive?

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Janice Ellis
Janice Ellis

Janice Ellis has lived and worked in Missouri for more than three decades, analyzing educational, political, social and economic issues across race, ethnicity, age and socio-economic status. Her commentary has appeared in The Kansas City Star, community newspapers, on radio and now online. She is the author of two award-winning books: From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream (2018) and Shaping Public Opinion: How Real Advocacy Journalism™ Should be Practiced (2021). Ellis holds a Ph.D. in communication arts, and two Master of Arts degrees, one in communications arts and a second in political science, all from the University of Wisconsin.