There was a time where America’s Republican Party used to dominate the landscape. From 1968 through 1988, they not only won all but one presidential election, but they also won big. But since the 1988 election, the party has only won the popular vote once, in 2004.
Without the landslides of 1994 and 2010 and subsequent redistricting, the GOP would be hurting. The party has not fared as well at legislative victories outside of those two, losing either seats or finishing second in votes. Even last year, Congressional Democrats received a million more votes and would have retaken the House if it wasn’t for the redrawing of legislative lines.
American conservatives can look across the Atlantic for a successful model. The German conservative party the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) finished first in another election, outpointing their rivals by fifteen percentage points. It was the third straight election the CDU finished first. That goes along with the domination of the CDU in the Bundestag (where the real power in Germany is) from 1983 to 1998.
How did Germany’s conservatives do it? The CDU finished first again with the same type of pragmatism that American Republicans once employed, the ones labeled “RINOs” today.
When chosen as Germany’s Chancellor in 2005, Angela Merkel was not only the first woman picked for the top spot, but also the youngest leader. Unlike the uncompromising British Conservative Margaret Thatcher, Merkel is known for finding common ground with her opponents when their interests are actually aligned. On issues of Europeanization, she’s worked with the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD).
At the same time, Merkel has shown an ability to pick a stand and stick with it, especially on taking a pro-business stand on labor issues, as well as a moderate position on social issues that doesn’t put her party out of the mainstream. As a scientist, she hasn’t attacked her profession to try and score cheap political points and exploit suspicion of any change.
There is a group in Germany that more closely resembles the Tea Party. It’s the Free Democratic Party (FDP), a pro-business libertarian party. The FDP, which is usually a government coalition party, had its worst showing since 1949. As a result of deep internal divisions between the libertarians, the hard-core conservatives and the business types, the party won’t get any seats for the first time since the German Federal Republic was founded after the war (not long after one of their best showings ever, earlier in the decade). Their poor showing could help the leftists win in a coalition in parliamentary party politics.
What’s happened with America’s Republican Party can be summed up with the recent Indiana Senate contest. Sen. Dick Lugar, a staunch Reagan ally, was leading in his reelection bid in 2012 by a 2:1 margin against Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly, who was only running because he
was drawn out of his district. But Lugar was defeated in his primary by Tea Party candidate Richard Mourdock, who got hammered by Donnelly, the sacrificial lamb, in November.
At some point, Republicans need to do some soul-searching, and look abroad to other models that can bring the party back to the way things used to be. Germany’s CDU is showing the way, having finished first in a third straight election, while in America, Republicans are nervous over the possibility of a third straight term for Democrats in 2016. It doesn’t have to be that way.