Letter from Tampa — From the April 2013 issue

The Awakening

Ron Paul’s generational movement

Almost half a year later, the postmortems continue. After an election in which Republicans failed to capture the White House and lost several seemingly winnable Senate seats, in which their tenuous majority in the House was retained more by way of redistricting than by the will of the voting public, everyone within and without the G.O.P. agrees it has a big problem.

Some insist that the critical failure of 2012 was one of messaging, that the party will return to power not by changing its beliefs but by finding the right tone — and the right candidate — to articulate its current ones. “The Republican Party does not need to change our principles,” Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal — already positioning himself to be that candidate — told a meeting of the Republican National Committee in Charlotte, North Carolina, in January. “But we might need to change just about everything else we do.” Lest it seem he was taking the problem too lightly, Jindal continued: “We must stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican party that talks like adults.”

Others say the hour for superficial tinkering is past. If politics is a lagging indicator, Republicans may simply have fallen behind market trends. By this thinking, demographic and social changes spell doom for the party as it is currently configured. As South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham told the Washington Post last year, “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”

Political coalitions are fragile things. It’s been four decades since Nixon united fiscal and social conservatives into the potent white alliance that won four of five presidential elections between 1972 and 1988, including two forty-nine-state landslides. Since then, the party has lost four of six presidential elections, as well as the popular vote in one of the two it won.

Graham’s comment reflects a growing worry not just that the party needs to compromise, even on “core values,” but that the coalition itself can no longer overcome its inherent contradictions. In the face of this existential crisis, party leaders seem oddly indifferent to — or ignorant of — the fact that a base of excited, young, and organized conservatives already exists. They are the Ron Paul youth.

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lives in Brooklyn. This is his first article for Harper’s Magazine.

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October 2019