Today, the Republican Party stands at a precipice.
From 2016-20, voters stripped Republicans of their majority in the House, their majority in the Senate and their control of the White House. It’s the first time since 1932 and the sixth time in U.S. history that a political party has lost all three in only four short years. Now, locked out of power and bleeding tens of thousands of voters, the GOP faces a stark choice: Grow or die.
That may sound dramatic, but as voters flee the party in droves and Democrats make major gains in the suburbs, it’s the dire reality of the situation. Even I have felt the need to become an Independent. Under normal circumstances, this would not have been an easy decision. Though, when you look at the current playing field, it’s not as difficult as one would think.
I spent my career helping elect Republicans and have been a proud conservative for my entire adult life. To me and thousands of other former Republicans like me, conservatism means more freedom, more opportunity and less government along with respect for individual rights. Those are the values that Ronald Reagan championed and that made the America of the Reagan years that shining city on a hill. Once, Republicans understood this basic conception of conservatism and deployed it to great political advantage.
But that is not the case any longer. As most recently evidenced by failed U.S. Senate candidate Lauren Witzke’s revealing spat with openly gay Trump adviser Ric Grenell, there is an ascendant faction of fake conservatives who believe that bigotry, intolerance and exclusion represent the party’s path back to political prominence. These fake conservatives are energized and emboldened, and believe — mistakenly — that they are the rightful inheritors of the party of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Reagan.
But these people are not conservatives, and they must not be allowed to become the heirs to Lincoln’s legacy. They are frauds, who act as if conservatism is about exclusion, endless grievance and performative, loudmouthed bigotry. They do not understand the first thing about true conservative values.
If the Republican Party becomes the permanent political home of these fake conservatives, the party will not only be effectively abandoning its central values — it will be electing to wither and decay into an impotent and dysfunctional regional party, animated by nothing more than resentment and hostility.
Today, a bipartisan group in Congress is working to pass historic legislation that would protect millions of members of the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination. This should be a conservative issue, and Republicans should be leading the charge. It would be a significant step toward increasing the GOP coalition. It would also refocus the party away from the noise that has surrounded the question of what it means to be conservative and plant a flag firmly on the right side of history.
As I’ve written before, politics is about addition, not subtraction or division; if the GOP is going to reemerge from the political wilderness, Republican candidates need to embrace conservatives of all backgrounds and, once again, support commonsense conservative values that have the capacity to resonate with voters everywhere.
When Republicans run on strong conservative ideas — lower taxes, more freedom, a strong national defense — they win. When they run on exclusion, bigotry and resentment, they lose. Today, there are tens of thousands of former Republicans in swing states across the country who share those commonsense conservative values and are eager to support candidates who champion them. Many of us have left the party since 2016, but we are looking for a reason to return; our belief in the power of conservative ideas to create a safer, more prosperous society has not waned. We are looking for a reason to vote Republican once again.
But the party will not grow, thrive and win until it rededicates itself to the conservative principles that once made it great. Until then, the GOP risks being overtaken and, ultimately, smothered by the resentment and bigotry of the performative fake conservative usurpers in its ranks. Make no mistake: They pose an existential threat to the party. They do not represent its future. They represent its demise.
The longer these fake conservatives feel at home in the GOP, the longer the GOP will wander the political wilderness. It’s that simple. That is the choice Republicans face, and time is running out.
John Fluharty is a former executive director of the Delaware Republican Party.