- - Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Republican Party is “shattered,” it will be “in the wilderness for many years,” and is in danger of becoming “less a national party than a regional southern party.”

These are not quotations from today’s political pundits but from those after the 2008 election. Less than two years later Republicans picked up seven Senate seats, 61 House sets achieving majority control, six gubernatorial seats and flipped 20 state legislatures.

The doomsayers are at it again, reporting deep troubles and a dire future for the Republican Party. The Republican Party is said to be “deeply split, if not fractured,” it has “no clear message,” and national “demographics are highly unfavorable.”

All this is wishful thinking on the part of Democrats and the liberal punditry. Whenever Democrats win, they flatter themselves that they are on the cusp of a permanent majority. Yet in nine of the 11 national elections in this century, either one or both houses of Congress or the presidency have changed party hands. The country is clearly and deeply divided politically; a presidency won by 45,000 votes in several key states, a 50-50 Senate and a 218-211 House is hardly the material of a permanent majority.

Let’s consider the claims predicting the demise of the Republican Party one by one. First, there is absolutely no underlying policy rift in the Republican Party. Donald Trump’s tone was that of a populist but he governed as a conservative. Most all Republicans subscribe to the same broad policy agenda: strong economic growth, unburdened by excessive taxes and regulation; a strong defense; support for freedom of speech, the right to bear arms and the free exercise of religion; the sanctity of life; support for law and order; a lawful system of immigration; free and fair international trade; and personal responsibility for one’s own life.

Where is the so-called split here? It is Democrats who are far more deeply split, between a radical left wing and a timid middle too fearful to speak out.

What is presented as a structural split among Republicans is less a split over the message than over the messenger. But this is always true of the out party, which has no clear leader to articulate the party’s agenda. Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy can and do speak to their legislative agendas, but in the absence of a national leader the out party’s message is always less distinct and more oppositional than positive.

What clear message did Democrats have between 2016 and 2020 other than unrelenting hostility to Donald Trump? As recently as mid-2020, who spoke for the Democrats? One has only to recall the assorted cast of characters on the Democrats’ primary debate stage, each hunting for some new idea or some way to re-package an old one in a way that might gain traction.

This is where Republicans are today. There are many potential national Republican leaders. Mr. Trump is one of them, though the further we are from 2020 the less dominant he will become. Others include Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Sens. Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Kristi Noem and a host of other talented governors.

Only people who cannot see even one step ahead will think Republicans are mired in permanent conflict. When a presidential nominee emerges, as he or she inevitably will, the Republican message will again be distinct and also, by the way, favored by the vast majority of Republicans and many independents. Who would trade today’s Republican reality for that of the Democrats in 2016?

Finally, there are demographics. Democrats and their all-too-willing accomplices in the media do their level best to paint Republicans as a party of only White voters, just as they once portrayed it as a party of the country club rich. In this way they aim to box the Republicans into a no-win situation.

But much has changed. The Democrats have become the party of the rich and the Republicans the party of small business and working-class voters. Republicans today have a new way to reach out to minority voters, and they have already begun to make inroads. It would be surprising in a two-party system if this did not occur. And it would not take much to succeed; if only an additional 5% to 10% of minority voters voted Republican, Democrats would find themselves in a very difficult place. Knowing this, one can expect Democrats will continue to make ever more outlandish claims about identity politics and race.

The youth vote is the most difficult problem for Republicans. Young voters have heard very little but liberal views expressed by their educators. Serious thought about messaging is needed to offset this disadvantage for Republicans. But there is no reason that a party led by the permanently entrenched elderly — Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer — should be particularly attractive to young voters.

In the end, Republicans have one great advantage. They do not run the country down with endless claims about systemic racism, cancel culture and stoking grievances among Americans. Republicans love the country and are proud to say so. They do not want this country transformed into something else. This message may not resonate with the sliver of the woke, but it does with most Americans.

• Jeff Bergner served in the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. His most recent book is “The Vanishing Congress.”

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