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Question Day: Can the Republican Party Heal?

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Longwalkdownlyndale asks about one of my longtime themes:

"You've written a lot about why you think the Republican Party is very dysfunctional right now. So how do you see this shaking out in the long haul? Do they just stay dysfunctional forever? Is change possible? And if so, how? Is there anything us non-Republicans can do to try and fix things?"

Great question. I wish I had a great answer.

One possibility is that if Republicans lose one or more presidential elections, the coalition of people who care about winning (either for career or policy reasons) could assert themselves and fight against the people who don’t. Note that I don’t think Republican dysfunction really hurts the party much in elections, especially presidential ones. But they could have that reaction anyway. This scenario isn't likely, however.

A slightly different possibility is that Republican-aligned interest groups will get fed up with losing on substance because of the rejectionist strategies and post-policy approach adopted by some in the party. This, too, I think is unlikely.

The most likely possibility is that Republicans manage to win a presidential election and get really lucky with the candidate. A strong, effective president can do a fair amount to nudge (and more) the party. Still, those are a lot of hurdles (elected, effective president who cares about party health).

I suppose I should add one other possibility: there’s nothing to prevent a bottom-up revolt from changing the party. It’s just not very likely to happen.

What can non-Republicans do? Not very much (though Democrats should certainly resist the urge to copy Republicans). I agree with Norm Ornstein and others that commentators (and political scientists) should be willing to call out just one party, if they see that party behaving badly. So there’s that. But mostly, this is something that Republicans have to work out on their own.

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