Prodigal Republicans

One of the most annoying things is being woken up in the early hours of the morning by two cats fighting. The hissing, the guttural yowls, and the surreal, haunting shrieks. Obviously, this made me want to write about the current state of Republican politics.

We have all seen that the sniping in the Republican Party has increased over the past few days. Understandably so. After Donald Trump’s rout of Ted Cruz in Indiana on Tuesday evening and both Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich quitting the race, Trump is the de facto nominee of the Republican Party.

This fact has led to consternation, open celebration, hand-wringing, insults, and a whole host of other (and, thanks to social media) public displays of poor sportsmanship. Magnanimity in victory and grace in defeat are two virtues that are blatantly lacking in the current discourse within the Party.

On the one hand, this is understandable. Donald Trump is a divisive figure. This isn’t meant to disparage Mr. Trump or his accomplishment. Against all odds, and against all punditry, Trump succeeded. However, even Mr. Trump realizes (as he noted in his speech Tuesday night), that the Primary has been ugly and grueling. Certainly Mr. Trump’s most ardent supporters will even concede that there are moments during the campaign where they would have preferred their candidate not to have taken the rhetorical track that he wound up following.

The call to Party unity is noble, albeit hollow. Many of us remember the insurgent 2008 and 2012 campaigns of then-Congressman Ron Paul. In both, the GOP elites waged an utterly scorched-earth “assent or stay silent” approach to Congressman Paul’s supporters. While some of Congressman Paul’s ideas or positions may have been outside of the “political mainstream,” the Party’s treatment of his supporters was deplorable. It’s not lost on some how Donald Trump’s own insurgent campaign’s victory provides a sense of schadenfreude while watching GOP opinion-shaper balk from “kissing the ring.”

An irksome part of the national GOP primary in 2016 has the “he’s not a conservative, you’re not a conservative, etc.” griping. Look, it’s 2016. The Democrats have a growing coalition and some are fighting over points on a resume. There’s a joke among libertarians that, if you put two libertarians in a room, in under ten minutes they will be arguing about how the other isn’t “a true libertarian.”

Given this backdrop and the insufferable amount of infighting that we’re seeing, I was reminded of the parable of the Prodigal Son. Now, you don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate parables. That’s kind of the point (at least in my mind) of a parable: they’re relatable expressions of a point to a large, diverse audience.

If you’re unfamiliar with the scripture, it’s Luke 15:11-32.

Now, let’s go out on a limb here and assume that, before we started the discussion, you assigned the “prodigal son” label (that is, the one who went and squandered his inheritance) on the viewpoint you disagree with in the Republican Party. For instance, if you’re an “establishment” kind of person, you assume that the “Trump folks” have gone out and wasted themselves on debauchery. If you’re a Trump person, you are expecting that the parable means that the establishment folks jumping off of the ship right now are about to go and live in dissipation.

Essentially, the preconception of “both sides” is the problem that we’re dealing with. Treating the Party like a zero-sum game (that is, a binary winner-loser paradigm) is going to, ultimately, devastate what you’re seeing yourself trying to protect. This is the complaint of the “other brother” in the parable. If you adopt the “I’ve been doing it right, where’s my reward/candidate/thanks/donation etc.,” you’re essentially occupying that space of the brother unwilling to engage.

Here’s the thing: if you assumed that you’re the “good brother,” there’s probably a considerable bloc in the Party that sees you as the prodigal brother. If you’re a Trump supporter, you’ve heard it for months from everyone from former Presidents to national pundits: you’re wrecking everything! If you’re an “establishment type,” the Trump people see you as “taking your toys and going home” in a tantrum over your loss at the top of the ticket. Dare we venture into the realm of saying, maybe both “sides” are making a valid point?

Look, the “call to unity” shouldn’t be based on one person or one viewpoint. We’re all smart enough to understand that the Party isn’t, and must not be, monolithic. If it is, or if it becomes that way, it is doomed to fail. That may seem melodramatic, but that’s the honest reality. Certainly the Republican Party should have a platform to act as a structure of guiding principles, but the endgame of a platform shouldn’t be a torture rack, but rather as tent poles holding up a broad, welcoming structure. Idealistic? Sure. But, given the realities that we are dealing with, there are two options: circle the wagons and adopt a siege mentality or keep the doors and minds of the Party open to any of us who find ourselves as prodigal Republicans.

Matt McDaniel

Attorney and Political Commentator

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