by Bob Barr
Support for President Trump has become something of a litmus test in today’s GOP. While this actually is not a bad measure of political backbone for a Party often in need of it, the removal of Liz Cheney as Conference chair and her replacement with up-and-comer Elise Stefanik, is a reminder that in order to project and protect conservative values, the Party needs more. Much more.
Beyond Stefanik’s support for Trump is a troubling voting history in Congress. According to FreedomWorks’ 2020 congressional scorecard, Stefanik received a paltry 37 percent on scored votes. By comparison, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez scored a 26 – just 11 points less than the GOP’s now third-ranking member in the House. Stefanik hardly seems the right choice to carry the GOP mantle at a time when conservative values are under attack from a progressive mob determined to wipe out all that we hold dear.
There are other troubling signs for the GOP. Take Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz.
Gaetz’s support for Trump and willingness to stand up to critics played a major role in the Florida Millennial blossoming into a rising GOP star, even though rumors of his questionable behavior were known for years. And, with a FreedomWorks’ congressional score of 65 (largely attributed to many missed votes on key bills), Gaetz’s unreliability as a crucial conservative vote fails to offset the liability he has become.
Stefanik and Gaetz are but the latest examples of the personality-over-principles problem within the GOP.
The prevalence of social media in today’s political campaigns appears to have forever altered how candidates communicate with voters. In some ways, this has given way to a welcomed sense of intimacy and genuineness through candid conversations recorded by the candidates themselves, rather than emotionless, focus-group-tested rote speeches and campaign ads.
On the other hand, social media, and the drive to “go viral” tends to bring out more bombastic behavior and antics, which may work well on the campaign trail and in congressional hearings soundbites, but can just as easily be highly counterproductive. Members who cannot, or will not rise to the dignity of the office they come to hold, become unwelcome distractions at a moment when the Party’s focus must be to sell the conservative agenda to voters.
This is not to say that members of Congress should be “seen, not heard.” In fact, one could argue the GOP needs more dominant personalities, able to command the attention and respect of voters in order to carry the conservative message forward. The problem occurs when the personality clouds that message – or hides it altogether.
Dominant Republican figures such as Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and Newt Gingrich were not the sole product of outsized personalities able to “troll” their opponents. Their successes resulted from their abilities to sell the conservative message artfully and effectively to voters in a way that brought new voters into the party and offered existing members something new to cheer about. This is not possible without principles, no matter the size of one’s online following.
Trump was able to generate more votes for an incumbent president in history, but it still was not enough. The groundwork he laid will require the next generation of GOP leaders to not just tell voters that we need to “make America great again,” but explain to them precisely how it will do so.
Trump captured voters’ attention. It is now up to the GOP to hold it.
This is no easy task or one that should be taken lightly. As much as it seems obvious that Democrats want to destroy everything that makes America great, such insidiousness is wrapped in the seductive trappings of “free everything.” Opting to be the opposition Party that spends, but just not quite as lavishly as the Democrat Party, is hardly a winning strategy for the GOP.
Republicans will never be able to out-spend liberals. The only long-term, winning strategy is a true return to conservative principles that demonstrate to voters – clearly, consistently, and substantively – the very real threats to individual liberty posed by runaway spending, higher taxes, and authoritarian moves. This is, however, a strategy that will not, indeed cannot, be achieved by superficial personality theater.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia, and serves as head of Liberty Guard.