- - Tuesday, October 9, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Where do go from here? That’s what people on both sides of the Kavanaugh battle are now asking. We go where we always go after a political battle: To the ballot boxes.

In thinking ahead, it may help to look back a bit. Even if one believes Moscow helped Donald Trump win the general election, Russian tampering does not explain how a political neophyte with no existing network single-handedly defeated one of the most distinguished slates of Republican opponents ever assembled. In primary after primary, Mr. Trump won stunning majorities of Republican voters. No one has suggested those victories were influenced by the Russians.

But why? How did the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, Ford, Reagan and Bush, become the party of Trump? Why did a message of division and fear that would usually have repulsed and appalled, resonate and appeal? What happened to us? What does it mean for the Republican Party’s future?

There are no easy answers, yet those are the questions worth asking because if polls are anywhere near accurate, the Republican Party, notwithstanding a potential “Brett bounce” next month, could be in danger of becoming extinct.

Is President Trump leading the Republican Party into oblivion? Even if you are a die-hard liberal Democrat, you should hope not. That would not be good for a country that relies on a robust two-party system.

By necessity, a political party is an ever-evolving entity, adapting to the issues of the day, the personalities chosen to lead it, and other factors that help keep it relevant. But to have credibility with voters and survive long-term, a political party must have fundamental core values that do not change over time.

In the case of the Republican Party, those values have always centered on individual freedom, especially from government tyranny. That’s why we unabashedly believe in American exceptionalism — the notion that our values and unique form of government makes us different, and yes, better than any other country.

Perhaps most importantly, the one value above all others that had defined the modern Republican Party, and especially the last four Republican presidents preceding Mr. Trump, is civility. Sadly, that does not describe the Republican Party of Trump. Today’s Republicans seem to be an aggrieved group who want to settle scores as much as they want to move our country forward.

Judging by the crowds at Mr. Trump’s rallies, they are against virtually everyone, especially the press, immigrants, and liberals, and are more interested in picking fights than in finding common ground on which we can walk together. There is a troubling road rage atmosphere to the Republican Party now, especially when “the base” gets together at events, as we have recently seen.

It would be easy to blame Mr. Trump for that, and because he sets the tone at the top, he bears some responsibility. But not entirely. He may have tapped into and embodied what many Republicans (and Independents) were/are feeling, but he did not create it. Let’s be clear: Mr. Trump did not hijack the Republican Party. Indeed, by the time he declared his seemingly unlikely candidacy, the Republican Party had already abandoned the tenor and style of our previous hero, Ronald Reagan, and was low-hanging fruit for Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

For more than a decade, I had the honor to work for Mr. Reagan. He would not like what the Republican Party has become. Mr. Reagan would be uncomfortable with the party’s often mean-spirited rhetoric. To him, governing was not about disparaging or crushing opponents, but about finding solutions to problems that both sides could accept — in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

The GOP was never more robust or influential than when Mr. Reagan was president. That it has drifted — or been dragged — so far from how he behaved and where he sought to take the party should be alarming to Republicans who seek to remain politically viable.

There is no historical model that suggests road rage is a sustainable philosophy for a political party in the United States.

The differences between Mr. Reagan and Mr. Trump could not be starker. Simply put, Mr. Reagan was always a gentleman. He believed in inclusion and was unfailingly gracious to friends and foes alike.

To survive and grow, the Republican Party needs the dignity, decorum and decency of Mr. Reagan. He appealed to our hopes and dreams as he painted a picture of a sunnier future. Mr. Reagan was almost never mad at anyone. Mr. Trump appeals to fear and despair and is almost always mad at someone. Mr. Reagan’s usual expression was a smile. Mr. Trump’s is a scowl. Simplistic, perhaps, but illustrative of the difference.

It reminds me of what my wife and I tell our young children: “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.”

No one said it better than Mr. Reagan.

Remember what Mr. Reagan said at the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, when he accepted the party’s nomination for president for the last time:

” with our independence goes a generosity of spirit more evident here than in any other part of the world. Recognizing the equality of all men and women, we’re willing and able to lift the weak, cradle those who hurt and nurture the bonds that tie us together”

That generosity of spirit, cradling of those who hurt, and nurturing of the bonds that tie us together are what we Republicans should insist on from those we allow to govern.

• Mark D. Weinberg, author of “Movie Nights with the Reagans” (Simon & Schuster), was special assistant to the president and director of public affairs in the Reagan White House. He is currently a communications consultant.


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