How To Build A Better Republican Party

David Brooks

David Brooks

David Brooks’ new column calls for dramatic reform with the Republican party. He begins by explaining the main narrative of the post-Goldwater GOP: the Encroachment narrative.

Since Barry Goldwater, the central Republican narrative has been what you might call the Encroachment Story: the core problem of American life is that voracious government has been steadily encroaching upon individuals and local communities. The core American conflict, in this view, is between Big Government and Personal Freedom.

While losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, the flaws of this mentality have become apparent. First, if opposing government is your primary objective, it’s hard to have a positive governing program.

The problem, as Brooks sees it, is this lack has led to the inability of conservatives to offer their own solutions. The can only oppose, not govern. In order to offer their own vision of government that solves real problems, Republicans will probably have to discard the Encroachment narrative. Brooks sees this as unlikely:

Can current Republicans change their underlying mentality to adapt to these realities? Intellectual history says no. People almost never change their underlying narratives or unconscious frameworks. Moreover, in the South and rural West, where most Republicans are from, the Encroachment Story has deep historic and psychological roots. Anti-Washington, anti-urban sentiment has characterized those cultures for decades.

It’s probably futile to try to change current Republicans. It’s smarter to build a new wing of the Republican Party, one that can compete in the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic states, in the upper Midwest and along the West Coast. It’s smarter to build a new division that is different the way the Westin is different than the Sheraton…

…It would be filled with people who recoiled at President Obama’s second Inaugural Address because of its excessive faith in centralized power, but who don’t share the absolute antigovernment story of the current G.O.P.

I think that’s a pretty reasonable suggestion. The GOP is a big party with many interests and sub groups within it. One group typically sits in the drivers seat, for George W. Bush’s presidency it was generally the neocons. Why can’t a moderate Burkean wing of the party achieve the same dominance? The far-right ideologues have had their day. The Tea Party is in decline. They have ruined the party, leaving a power vacuum. If the people Brooks is writing about can step up, we might have a whole new dynamic in the party, and that would unquestionably be a positive thing.

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22 Responses to How To Build A Better Republican Party

  1. May I suggest that the GOP could make this happen if … IF it embraced federalism and states rights. If New York and California want to embrace big government and the nanny state, fine. Let them do it. And let the rest of us embrace the smaller government model that will actually work. The proviso is that NY and Cali won’t be bailed out when they sink in debt.

    This idea only works in a federal system where states get to choose their own destinies and the national government is too small to do anything about it.

    And you’re completely wrong about the tea-party wrecking the GOP or declining. The reason the GOP lost this election was because they advanced a progressive over much more conservative candidates. Conservatives stayed home. We’re still here and the GOP ignores that at its peril. At best it becomes a moderate third party; at worst it goes the way of the Whig Party it replaced.

    • Thanks for your comment. Obviously I disagree, but life wouldn’t be very interesting if we all agreed on things, would it?

      I figured the narrative in the GOP would become, “this is what happens when we nominate a moderate” if Romney lost. I don’t think that’s accurate at all: the GOP has lost 5 of the last 6 presidential elections in the popular vote. It also lost the popular vote in the House this go around.

      I’d prefer republicans to embrace more efficient, problem solving, and enthusiastic government like David Brooks suggests rather than trying to roll back the New Deal.

      • Yes, the GOP has lost several presidential elections. Look at the candidates.

        GHWB (1992) — progressive who raised taxes rather than roll back government

        Bob Dole (1996) – a progressive who worked with McGovern to lower the threshholds to qualify for foodstamps

        John McCain (2008) – a “maverick” who was leading in the polls until he voted for TARP1

        Mitt Romney (2012) – a progressive who authored the proto-type of ObamaCare, and throughout most of his campaign promised to keep Obama’s programs in place with slight modifications.

        Note that 30 states have Republican governors and most of them are more conservative than the last GOP governor for their state.

      • That’s a good point about governors. Winning inside of a state is easier than a national election. I think that of the GOP continues to run so far to the right they will not be able to win national elections any longer.

        All those candidates (aside from Romney of course) would not identify as even close to progressive, and that was not how the electorate saw them.

        Getting rid of the New Deal is a losing proposition for the GOP. Americans like the idea of small government because they view everyone else’s government services as welfare, but their own as ‘benefits.’ Everyone loves their own congressman but hates congress. They want federal money for needed projects, but look at everyone else’s as pork barrel spending.

        I’ve thought for a while now that efficient and less complex government should be the GOP’s focus instead.

      • Government, especially at the federal level, is NEVER efficient and almost always too complex.

        I work for the State of Alaska. When we do a road project, the federal red tape adds at least three years to whatever we do. And, in the long run, it costs us maintenance money because the federal government insists we build roads to standards that work in California, but result in roads that fall apart in a cold climate.

        If the GOP focused on FEDERALISM (which is a vast reduction of the federal government in favor of the states) they might not lose the conservative vote, but instead you want them to promise to manage the DC behemoth better. With all due respect, McCain and Romney both promised to do that and it didn’t work. Why do you think 2012 GOP voter turnout was so much less that it was in 2008 — because we liked that promise so much that we stayed home to give the election to Obama? Seriously, liberals really don’t understand what conservatives want. I seriously doubt the GOP can win any national elections without the 35-40% of the electorate that self-describes as conservative.

      • You are aware that you’ll be out of a job if your small government dreams ever come true, right?

      • A clarification needs to be made here regarding FEDERALISM. Generally speaking, it defines a balance between centralized and regional governance, In U.S. history, it is synonymous with a strong federal government (see: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, The Federalist Papers, Articles of Confederation, Anti-Federalists, Supremacy Clause, and Tenth Amendment). The modern conservative movement initiated NEW FEDERALISM under Ronald Reagan (“devolution revolution”) advocating government decentralization (i.e. “states rights”).

        If the GOP lost the 2012 election due to weak voter turnout among conservatives, I’d like to see the evidence. All we heard beforehand was that Republicans had the “voter enthusiasm” advantage. In fact, Romney received more votes than McCain did in 2008 while Obama received less (3rd party candidates also did better). Total eligible voter turnout dropped about 4% from 2008 to 2012 (see:, but there is no data I can find suggesting this affected Republicans more than Democrats. The correct 2012 election narrative regards demographic changes in the electorate currently favoring the Democratic Party over the GOP.

  2. David Brooks is awesome!
    I liked how he pointed out that since the GOP is so anti-government that they weren’t offering alternate solutions to the problems we face. I have been saying that for years. If they don’t like the financial reform or health care reform offered by democrats then offer an alternative. Unfortunately they only offer criticism and not even constructive criticism.

    I wonder if the GOP could survive another wing to it. Or if that would just spin off into an entirely new party leaving the GOP in a worse position (though it might leave the country in a better position).

  3. john zande says:

    I wish them luck. A democracy only works when there’s a healthy (sane) opposition.

  4. This is Brooks at his best – knowledgeable, thoughtful, and reasoned. I’d like to read his opinion about the potential consequences for the GOP if such a Northeast/mid-Atlantic/Midwest/West Coast faction coalesced into a unified political force. Could it avoid a bitter showdown with the South/rural West right-wing for control of the party? If not, what would the loser do in response? Would it break off and form a new party?

    Even though I’m an unabashed (though independent) progressive, I believe a healthy Republican Party is vital for America’s two-party system. Its current dysfunctional state is hurting our nation. The sooner the GOP sorts out its problems, the better off we’ll all be.

  5. You forgot to mention my appointment to leader of the party lol

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