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Why This Democrat Wants a Strong Republican Party

By Lee Hamilton


I’ve been a Democrat all my life. But that doesn’t mean I favor a weak Republican Party. Indeed, just the opposite. Before my Democratic friends drum me out of the party, let me explain why.

Our nation is stronger and our representative democracy healthier when we have two strong parties. A single political party that’s able to dominate public policy-making undermines the give-and-take that’s crucial to effective policy and leaves us weaker as a country.

Why is this? For starters, none of us, and neither political party, has a monopoly on wisdom. Moreover, the legitimacy of the political system rests on its ability to give voice to the multitude of concerns and attitudes held by the American people. It’s important they all have a political party to turn to.

I don’t want to get into the split between backers of Donald Trump and the traditional Republican leadership — that’s for the GOP to sort out. But there is no doubt that the Republican Party has reached a crossroads.

If Trump wins the presidency, he’ll be the chief actor in determining the future of his party and what it stands for. If he loses, the GOP will more than likely move back toward its more traditional views.

I suppose I’m showing my biases here, but I believe that a robust Republican Party will strengthen its willingness to improve and broaden the policy debate and move it away from steps to impede it. This would be a GOP that advocates for limited government, wants to reform our unwieldy tax code, and is determined to remain fiscally responsible so that deficits don’t explode. It would tackle our health-care system by reforming it using market mechanisms. It would push to devolve power away from Washington, D.C. — giving states more control over such basic responsibilities as highways, welfare, and education.

Each of these issues has been at the center of the national agenda for many years, suggesting their difficulty. We need proposals from both sides that are realistic, coherent, and based on numbers that add up. We need parties that are at the top of their game, generating solutions to the issues we confront and prepared to negotiate to move us beyond our current gridlock.

This can best happen when a healthy Republican Party is competing with a healthy Democratic Party. At the moment, that’s not what we’re seeing.

Lee Hamilton is a senior advisor for the Indiana University (IU) Center on Representative Government, distinguished scholar at the IU School of Global and International Studies, and professor of practice at the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Hamilton, a Democrat, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years, representing a district in south central Indiana. 

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