GOP Stupidity Is Squandering the Opportunity Created by Woke Authoritarians | Opinion

It's hardly debatable anymore that the Left is out of control, increasingly influenced and even governed by a radical authoritarian culture that brooks no dissent and over-corrects on all fronts it sets its sights on. You would think this would present a perfect opportunity for Republicans to seize the moment and capture the confidence of moderates and even liberals deeply alienated by this woke authoritarian culture.

You would be wrong.

Through sheer stupidity, the GOP has repeatedly squandered opportunities to fight the righteous cause of left-wing overreach with sensible and popular counterproposals. Instead, Republicans have doubled down on culture war issues and their own extremism, mirroring rather than fighting the Left's overreach. In case after case, Republicans seem to be working overtime to alienate potential constituencies in the service of their most aggrieved and even unhinged base.

The most glaring example comes from the heart of Republican power: Texas. The state passed an abortion law so extreme it effectively bans all abortions while relying on private citizens to enforce it; the law deputizes individuals to bring civil lawsuits against their neighbors should they learn that they have performed or assisted in an abortion. The law bans abortions at six weeks and anyone who assists or performs an abortion can be sued.

The new law is so extreme it has the local business community "scratching their heads," as one Republican operative put it; business leaders were shocked to see Texas Governor Greg Abbot, a sometimes moderate, adopt such a far right stance. Like other far right pieces of legislation on things like the open carry of guns, the new law could become a barrier to attracting more companies to the Lone Star State; it's already generated a strong set of counter-measures among tech firms. Some have been kicking pro-life activist websites off their servers and offering protections to their own employees, including Uber and Lyft drivers who might be liable for transporting people to abortions.

And it's not just business leaders who are alienated. The abortion ban will not play well in the suburban communities that are the state's prime political battlegrounds. As Gallup has consistently found, barely one in five Americans support a total ban on abortion, while fully one-third favor no restrictions at all.

The abortion law reminded voters how extreme large sections of the GOP have become, particularly in red states like Texas. But perhaps more critically, the abortion law and the way it deputizes vigilante justice undermines what was becoming a compelling case against progressive authoritarianism as it's being carried out in universities, on social media, and on major internet platforms.

After all, it's difficult to campaign against campus thought policing and the blatant politicization of information by Google and Facebook while urging citizens to spy on each other. And the fight against encroaching left-wing authoritarianism and censorship is popular according to recent surveys, not only among Boomers but the vast majority of millennials and Gen Zers, too.

This is a fight the GOP could win—and win big. But to do so, it will need to stop focusing on the culture wars. Let the progressives—increasingly the voice of the Democrats—keep hammering away at the culture wars, embracing a repressive and widely unpopular agenda. Republicans should abandon these sorts of fights that appeal to the most extreme corners of their base, and should focus on moderating across the board.

They should start by ridding their party of the instinctive dislike of foreigners and the fear of cultural contamination, things which remain embedded in the party's core. The way to win a lasting victory is to realize the true nature of an increasingly diverse Texas; 95 percent of its growth this decade was among minorities. And yet, a dozen GOP county chairs were found tweeting conspiracy theories and openly racist memes, including from Harris County, where non-Hispanic whites are less than one-third of population.

This bigotry should be stamped out for its own sake. And failing to do so could staunch GOP progress among Hispanics who without this kind of racism would be a captive audience, alarmed as many are by the lack of border control and the Democrats' increasingly wacky cultural stance. Such Hispanics have been defecting to the GOP in surprising numbers; and yet Republicans are squandering this progress over conspiracy theories about George Soros.

Texas abortion
Pro-life protesters stand near the gate of the Texas state capitol at a protest outside the Texas state capitol on May 29, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Thousands of protesters came out in response to a new bill outlawing abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected signed on Wednesday by Texas Governor Greg Abbot. Sergio Flores/Getty Images

Republicans also need to be smart about critical race theory, which has been widely adopted by the Biden Administration. It is awful pedagogy and not popular in the public, much like the entire PC agenda. But the battle needs to be carried out closer to the grassroots, at local school boards. Let common sense flow from below; blanket state bans also smack of right-wing version of authoritarianism from above.

As with the abortion law, the moral high ground of the fight against critical race theory is marred when attempts to stop it recapitulate the same authoritarian forces Republicans are trying to counteract.

The COVID-19 pandemic is another place where stupidity could undermine the GOP. Battles over vaccines may appeal to the GOP base, but the fact that several very red southern states—Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas—now have fatality rates close to those of New York and New Jersey is not a good advertisement for ultra-loose policies. The argument on masks and lockdowns is complex, but rather than attack the lockdowns as repressive, the Republicans would do better to push the case that generally lockdown states have fared worse economically, if perhaps better on infections.

Equally foolish have been the continued claims of election fraud, which makes some Republicans sound like arms-toting junior confederates—dangerous at a time when faith in most national institutions are fading. Trump's refusal to admit defeat has actually been a soft form of voter suppression in that it depresses Republican turnout by convincing people that elections are rigged; this stupidity likely cost the party two Senate seats in Georgia.

Trumpism may stir the base, but it leads to a nihilistic dark alley from which it is hard to escape. Instead of leaning into the culture wars, Republicans need a positive agenda focused on opportunity and everyday concerns, including jobs, schools, and public safety, particularly when even most Democrats worry about rising crime. On climate change, they would do best not to deny what is likely occurring but to propose measures to reduce emissions in ways that do not hurt working and middle class Americans.

Class issues, which are compelling with racial minorities, represent the only sustainable path to Republican resurgence. The old country club version has been demolished by the essential merger of corporate America and the Democratic Party and its agenda.

The Democrats have helpfully become the party of the rich; it would be a shame for Republicans to squander this opportunity and become the party of the crazy.

To beat the Democrats, Republicans need to connect not just with people's fears and rage at an increasingly arrogant upper class but also their aspirations. They need to be the party of small businesses, homeowners and aspiring homeowners, of artisans, and technicians; essentially, the party of anyone interested in supporting their family.

It is here, in the intersection of the economy and society, that future political winners will emerge—not from the lunatic cultural agendas of the far left or far right. Being owned by the oligarchy with its image defined by the loony left makes Democrats unnatural instruments to address the needs of the middle class. It opens an opportunity so large that only a profoundly stupid party could miss it.

Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His new book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, is now out from Encounter. You can follow him on Twitter: @joelkotkin.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.