President Nixon prided himself in campaigning not only for his own political ambitions, but for the greater good of the Republican Party.
With the 2014 House elections approaching, the Republican Party must heed President Nixon’s campaign record to retain its House majority as party unity remains paltry. The general consensus, perpetuated by popular media, is that the GOP will pay for its transgressions in its fixation with dismantling Obamacare and its tactics during recent financial talks.
However, contrary to media publicity, the time is perfect for Republicans to exert itself as the party of adaptability and flexibility.
In the upcoming 2014 Congressional seat battles, there will be approximately 72 House seats with uncertain Republican/Democratic implications and 33 Senate seats up for contest.
Assessing the GOP’s political response to the Obama administration’s legislative and budget initiatives illustrates a critical distinction between GOP interests and Democratic interests. Just as the philosophical distinction between the Republican and Democratic parties was never clearer than in the middle 1960s, it is again never clearer in 2013.
In 1965, then private citizen Richard Nixon anticipated two reactions regarding the political landscape of the United States in the second half of the 1960s:
-the ingratitude of those President Johnson had tried to help and the new constituency of government dependents who would always demand more than he could give.
-the breakdown of the performance of the Great Society programs themselves because of a clear conflict of interest in the theory of the programs and the self-interested tough-mindedness of the people it served.
President Nixon believed that these two factors offered an opportune moment for Republicans to lead an active opposition. In 2013, the negative fallout of Obamacare (backlogs and glitches in state and federal health exchanges and already rising insurance premiums) is offering a similar occasion. However, Republican Party unity was an issue in the year after 1964 just as it is today. Barry Goldwater, the Republican presidential nominee in 1964, and his campaign rhetoric failed to unify a Republican Party manned by many factions; in fact, Goldwater managed to open new party wounds. The failure of Goldwater and the stigma of Republicans as reactionary, reckless and racist exuded a Republican public image of negativity.
President Nixon did not stress accommodations for the extreme factions of his fellow Republicans nor the Democratic counterparts despite the Party’s uphill battle against a Democratic monolith. Instead he urged party unity through a reevaluation of Republican norms—the roots of Republicanism established by the party’s founder, Abraham Lincoln. He insisted that one be “liberal in their concern for people and conservative in their respect for the rule of law.” In shoring up the misconception of the meaning of liberal and conservative, he added:
If being liberal means federalizing everything, then I’m no liberal. If being conservative means turning back the clock, denying problems that exist, then I’m no conservative.
The three prominent factions of evangelicals, Tea Party activists, and moderates within the Republican Party disagree on many points of governance. Yet there is a common ground, and that is in their discontent for big government policy. When the philosophical distinction between the parties reveals itself in such blatant mannerisms—that is, when big government programs and initiatives draws a fine line between public and political interests—opportunities can be seized upon.
The Republican Party is today granted the advantage of a House majority. But it will be difficult to maintain this majority, or build on it, if unity is not quickly established.