Breaking Reagan's 11th Commandment

Republicans now need total re-boot
By Sam Patten | Jan 15, 2021

Growing up like Michael P. Keaton of the 1980s sitcom "Family Ties," I always took a fair amount of flak from my decidedly liberal family and friends over being a Republican.  I grew used to it. In fact the thickening of the skin made me more like an actual Republican.

But since my first Republican hero was Maine Sen. Bill Cohen, who was a congressman in the 1970s that voted to impeach Richard Nixon, I was often considered a “squish” or a RINO.

Cohen held the same seat as Margaret Chase Smith, who stood up to Joseph McCarthy when others were afraid to do so. Today, as the party is all but leveled, there are two paths it may now take: the path of Cohen, Smith, Liz Cheney and Lisa Murkowski, or the path of Trump.

Long before the events of Jan. 6, I saw the Trump path leading to destruction because the man at its center tends to blow up everything around him. Of course, he delivered by inciting a frothy mob to stop procedural certification of electoral votes in the Congress.

Logically, one might think this will ensure that he’ll go down in history like Benedict Arnold or Aaron Burr. But politics are emotional, not logical, and it would be nice but naïve to hope that Trump will go away after next Wednesday.  He won’t.

Ronald Reagan inherited a broken party in 1980; Nixon’s forced resignation and Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon hurt the brand badly. Only sunny, good-natured optimism and zero tolerance for infighting were able to pull the GOP out of its losing funk.

Reagan left the party with an 11th Commandment:  “Thou shalt not speak ill of thy fellow Republican.”

In politics, such an order seems made to be broken, but for the most part Republicans have worked around massive differences on abortion and the role of corporate America, the surveillance state and whether or not America had any business playing global policeman.

Not surprisingly, an Axios-IPSOS poll the other day showed nearly two-thirds of Republicans supported Trump’s performance over the last week.  In his heyday as president, he enjoyed 80% and close to 90% approval amongst his fellow partisans. I often wondered how much this had to do with Reagan’s 11th.

Before the election, I believed whichever party lost the White House (and as it would turn out, the Senate as well) would by necessity be the first to reform. If either party were actually functional, we never would have had Trump. In defeat, Republicans have time to reassess, rebuild and renew — if we’re not too busy eating one another alive.

Had the Democrats lost to Trump a second time, the revolution would have been immediate, and the “oldies” would have been banished to the hinterlands forever, while young progressives took over.

Does that mean Republicans now will become more radicalized? It is a real possibility, and Trump’s path depends on it.

P.J. O’Rourke wrote to his fellow Republicans in 1992, “Relax guys, this is good, being in opposition is where the real fun is.” This must have been tongue-in-cheek to some degree, because how parties handle opposition is usually the test of whether they’ll ever be trusted with power again.

Senators who privately hated Trump but kissed up to him anyway — like Marco Rubio — dampened hope of a useful, commonsense, moderate-wing hold of the party. We need to do what Democrats would have done if they’d lost. That means doing inventory, tossing toxic elements and finding two or three things to stand for, since the trinity of national security hawks, free marketers and “family values” defenders is a thing of the past.

It’s time for a new and relevant purpose.

The irony today is that Republicans have to break Reagan’s 11th Commandment in order to save the party. It needn’t be a Red Wedding, but it’s time for a purge (says Trotsky, hopefully). The reelection of Ronna McDaniel at last week’s Republican National Committee was a bad sign, but the apparat itself may end up getting dismantled. The crashing and burning probably has a way to go, but it does needs to stop before there’s nothing left.

Or, if doesn’t, conservatives will just have to start from scratch.

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.

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Comments (4)
Posted by: William Pieske | Jan 20, 2021 09:44

On a less confrontational note, wouldn’t that be Michael J. Fox and not Michael Keaton?



Posted by: Ralph Stanley | Jan 18, 2021 17:47

The Republicans face a reckoning with 10 members of their party voting for the impeachment of a Republican president. Inciting ''Insurrection"? Please. Now looking to backtrack from this stupidity, these clowns actually thought that this would be a legitimate act of removal. One good to be had from this, will be the end of the Cheney's and their fetid hold on the political discourse in this country.



Posted by: Ralph Stanley | Jan 17, 2021 07:02

Long live Thomas Sowell.



Posted by: Crawford L Robinson | Jan 16, 2021 21:50

Conservatives? That theory has already crashed and burned in just under 4 years.



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