The writer was Republican governor of New Jersey 1994-2001
The US Republican party is in trouble. In 2005 I wrote a book, It’s My Party Too, that warned it was being overtaken by its most conservative elements. I predicted that this conservative takeover would lead to its ultimate marginalisation.
There is no satisfaction in saying “I told you so” — but I now suspect that is precisely where the party is headed. Recent polls suggest that Republicans may lose the Senate and additional seats in the House of Representatives this November, a sign of the party’s declining electoral appeal. And even if it holds the Senate, overall Republican registration will continue to decline.
Despite the damage President Donald Trump has inflicted on my party, I still believe that our country operates best with a two-party system, and I don’t want to see the demise of the principles that have long animated the party of Abraham Lincoln. I’m proud of the long lineage of the Grand Old Party that was founded on equality for all Americans.
Mr Trump has never represented this party. Instead, he has fractured it and handed power to its most extreme elements. The president affiliated himself and, by extension, the party, with far-right extremists before belatedly condemning white supremacists. He has destabilised US foreign policy, abandoning our allies and appeasing or even abetting our enemies. He has abandoned the policy beliefs that have long guided the party — going so far as to run on a blank platform at this summer’s convention. He has undermined the very core of the Republican party and put its existence in jeopardy.
The way forward for the GOP depends on reversing the increasing extremism exemplified in Mr Trump’s presidency.
The Republican party needs to build a broad, inclusive coalition that represents the diversity of American experience. If we do not, we will quickly become irrelevant in US politics. But more importantly, if we do not build this coalition, we will have lost sight of what our nation stands for, a country founded on the promise of inclusivity: e pluribus unum — out of many, one.
The tenets of this inclusive, conservative party must be based on respect for the US constitution, respect for the rule of law, and equality for all, regardless of race or class. Security at home and abroad, balanced budgets, respect for our shared environment and an engaged foreign policy should all be at the forefront of our party’s agenda. If the Republican party adopts this inclusive platform, there will be a seat at the table for a broad range of Americans — and the party will have an electoral future.
Make no mistake: the outcome of this election will not just decide the presidency, it will also determine whether the Republican party can survive. If Mr Trump wins re-election, then the party is his, and his extreme views will continue to drive policy. With a Trump White House for the next four years, we will find ourselves increasingly isolated, deserted by our allies and duped by those who have never been our friends.
The centre of global leadership will continue to shift, as China and Russia rush to fill the void left by the Trump administration’s lack of a coherent foreign policy. We will see the continued rollback of environmental regulations, which will endanger the health of our citizens. The GOP will devolve under the control of a bully who is not, and never has been, a Republican. In short, the party will be dead by 2024.
If Joe Biden wins in a close race next month, Mr Trump will fight tooth and nail to stay in office. He will fling out all sorts of baseless accusations of voter fraud in the hope that the results will be examined by the Supreme Court, perhaps with his newest justice able to tip the results in his favour.
A protracted battle over election results will also mean a divisive fight within the GOP. Some could withdraw altogether, creating a third party made up of dissident Republicans who have chosen to support Mr Biden in November for the good of our democracy. Plagued by internal disagreements and a damaged reputation, the Republican party will lose its political influence for a time, leaving the electoral field to the Democrats for at least a decade.
If Mr Biden’s victory is solid enough to make even congressional Republicans concede Mr Trump’s defeat, the Trump wing of the party will become the outlier. Under a Biden presidency, the GOP will have at least four years of a president who will work to bring people together and provide the stability we need to move forward. The focus then will be on what sort of a responsible, conservative party we want to be. This is one of the reasons, beyond the fact that I believe Mr Biden is a decent man who will put the interests of the country first, why I am heading the group Republicans and Independents for Biden.
The Republican party has a choice to make. It is naive to imagine its members can continue shifting ever rightward without losing the American vote and, eventually, whittling away the influence the party once had. The only path forward is a return to the principles of moderate Republicanism, backed by a broad coalition of Americans. This election could be the launch pad for a more inclusive Republican party, if we elect Mr Biden by a margin that precludes Mr Trump from challenging the results. Paradoxically, the Democratic candidate’s election will be the path to the big tent the GOP must become.