Election Day is upon us. Today, Nov. 8, we will cast our votes and choose a new cadre of elected officials. There are not likely to be many surprises here in Wyoming. For all but a handful of races, the results are all but certain. Wyoming will again have Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature; an all-Republican federal delegation; and, almost certainly, Republicans in each of the five statewide elected offices. Suffice it to say that Wyoming Republicans will have a pretty good day.
However, we Republicans must remember that just because things are going well now, that does not mean they will continue that way forever. In the recent past, Colorado and Arizona were reliable Republican states. That is no longer true. The Republican Party in those states lost touch with the average voter. Now Colorado leans Democratic while Arizona is a toss-up. Although Wyoming has a long way to go before that happens, leaders in Arizona and Colorado likely thought the same before their states shifted.
If we are to maintain our majority status, Republicans must make sure that voters feel that their voice is heard in the Republican Party. Political affiliations are sticky things. Once someone identifies with a political party, it is hard to dislodge them. If a political party fails to recruit members when voters first “choose their team,” it is unlikely to remain a viable party. The flip side of the coin is also true: Even though it is difficult to change a voter’s partisan identity, once it does happen, that voter is unlikely to ever change back. A Republican who has left the party is very unlikely to ever identify as a Republican again.
This means that Republicans must be ever mindful to attract new members and avoid alienating existing members. If we fail to do this, we risk becoming a permanent minority party. The “big tent” party that Ronald Reagan spoke of is not just a pleasant phrase — it is political necessity.
Unfortunately, many Republicans seem to have forgotten this. There is increased insistence on ideological purity and little tolerance for dissent or opposing views. There is a significant risk that the Republican Party becomes a party based solely on a single point of view. While this sounds appealing at first glance, it would be disastrous for the party long-term.
American political parties are coalitions of groups that are generally aligned on policy, although not always and not on everything. Historically, there has been debate and negotiation within political parties among different schools of thought. In the Republican Party, libertarians, business-first conservatives and religious voters have had aligned viewpoints when it came to communism or collectivism, but very different viewpoints on social issues. This was a good thing. Voters of varying viewpoints came together to support a broad-based party, resulting in both a more responsive party and a party with a better chance to win elections.
This arrangement is not without its frustrations, especially in a closely divided country. Debates within the party do not always result in everyone closing ranks. Close votes may fail due to a party’s elected officials failing to vote for their party’s preferred policy. Republican voters are understandably upset when their legislation fails because of Republican officials voting against it. A more homogenous party is very appealing in those moments, and the temptation to try to force out the dissenters is strong.
However, the alternative is an unresponsive party likely to bleed voters over time. A party with a sole viewpoint is unlikely to be able to speak to a majority of voters. Under the “big tent,” a voter may not agree 100% of the time, but they see enough people like them, and agree often enough, that they are willing to adopt the party label and cast their support and votes for the party’s candidates. If they hear enough voices like theirs, even if their view is not the majority, they feel welcome. A party with a single point of view is unlikely to keep those voters. If the only viewpoint expressed is one different from their own, they will seek other parties and candidates to support, or find that they support none of them. We must remember that while a Republican coalition is likely to reach a majority of the American people, any individual wing of our party is not.
This is my fear for the Republican Party. If we do not ensure that our party has room for a variety of viewpoints, we risk losing the future. A win today is a good thing, but it must be followed by further wins in the future if our party is to accomplish its goals. We must remain a big tent party if we are going to continue to have election days like we will have this week. Otherwise, we should savor the victory now — as we are unlikely to see many more.