The NDGOP has risen to near absolute political dominance in recent years. The party holds every single statewide elected office as well as wide majorities in both houses of the legislature. Yet, despite the super-majorities, the party is having big problems advancing a conservative agenda. Or, at least, advancing one without inspiring rancor and infighting within the party itself.
“My wife and I, both fiscal conservatives and longtime ND Republican activists, [and] have spoken with a good number of Republican legislators who will not vote to override, should the Governor veto [the abortion bills],” a reader wrote to me yesterday after the passage of three more pieces of pro-life legislation in the state House yesterday. “I see this issue as being a fatal blow our state party and our majority. Our mistake was to allow ourselves to be duped into becoming the national poster child for zealots.”
The name of this reader, whose anonymity I will protect, would probably be recognizable to most Republicans in the state, and his complaint about the pro-life bills is a microcosm for the problem that plagues the NDGOP.
The party has an ideological vacuum. The NDGOP, while extremely effective in getting Republicans elected, hasn’t had as its goal a well-defined platform of policies and ideas based on conservative principles. In fact, the party skimped on even passing a platform during its last statewide convention.
As luck would have it, during a conversation which had nothing to do with the pro-life bills, I happened to be speaking with a member of the NDGOP’s governing committee yesterday and asked him why it was the party doesn’t engage on issues like the Democrats do.
The Dems are very good at coordinating their media message. The party has a communications strategy aimed at supporting the agenda of its elected officials, and they execute it consistently. The NDGOP, on the other hand, largely goes to sleep between election cycles doing very little to back the moves of the Republican caucus in the legislature and pretty much leaving the statewide elected officials on their own.
In answer to my question about the NDGOP’s lack of an issues-based communications strategy, the party official told me that they can’t do it because there’s no wide agreement on the issues in the party. Because the party has been so focused on electing anyone willing to call themselves a Republican, without regard for ideology or principles, we’re left now with a super-majority which can’t advance a consistent agenda for lack of agreement on what that agenda should be.
It’s not hard to see the truth in this. One need only look at the legislature, where rock-solid conservatives share the same caucus with colleagues who vote more liberally than many Democrats.
When your caucus is that ideologically stratified, how do you govern on principle? The answer is that you don’t. You can’t.
Long-term, that’s going to cost Republicans dearly.