I was recently contemplating the divide within the Republican party, contemplating how it might be bridged. I ask the question because I fear the divide which seems to be ever widening will trigger the loss of elections for the home team.
Unfortunately, Republicans seems to be suffering from an identity crisis.
You have the traditional Reagan Republicans who measure success as… well, success. They measure it in terms of growth, and economic well-being. It’s law and order oriented and has a laissez faire attitude towards government and regulation. It’s what we might traditionally think of as our capitalist system. Whether it has been community growth or more and better paying jobs, it has been our mantra for decades.
On the other hand, there is a movement of populists within the GOP which has taken root, and seemingly has set itself up as the enemy of “big.”
Virus sweeping across the country killing people, and vaccinations are recommended as the first line of defense? Well, that’s BIG PHARMA trying to take over our lives.
Hey, a group of investors is coming in and putting up wind towers. Well, that’s BIG WIND.
Don’t even get me started on pipelines. In 2017, you had people like State Rep. Jon Hansen as the prime Sponsor of the riot boosting bill to take on those organizing the pipeline protesters for the Keystone XL Pipeline. In 2023, now populists such as Hansen are part of rallies, and appearing on pillow-guy TV railing on carbon pipelines. With the new wave of populists who could have cared less 5 years ago about pipelines, now it’s BIG ETHANOL that’s being portrayed as the villain.
Another great example was when the Governor and Dakota State University put together a transformational partnership for DSU’s cyber security expansion in 2022, which would lure as many as 1500 new jobs to the state, and an economic impact of hundreds of millions.. and the populists on appropriations gutted the funding because it was too big.
Or as Rep. Taffy Howard, one of the
idiots members of the committee declared when she opposed the measure whether funded or not, “We should allow natural growth.” Because natural growth would put together 100 million in funding for a public/private/university partnership for a cybersecurity center and drop it in Sioux Falls, South Dakota?
Even within party politics, there are populists who are just dead set against success. They regularly attack Governor Noem. They throw rocks at her, as well as other people they perceive to be Republican party leaders. It’s as if they have an adult case of oppositional defiance disorder and will oppose anyone just for opposition’s sake. One example would be how they rail on about Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck. You can’t argue with his success, since we’re literally down to 4 Democrats in the Senate. But, the populists regularly attack the Senator for his role in leadership.
There was an article from a couple of years back which talked about Democrat Elizabeth Warren trying to appeal to prairie populism, noting how populists cast their villains:
The American midwest, today a sea of conservative elected officials, wasn’t always this way. Left-wing populism mattered from the late 19th century, when William Jennings Bryan crusaded against eastern financiers on behalf of humble farmers, into the late nineties and early 2000s, when “prairie populist” senators like South Dakota’s Tom Daschle and Iowa’s Tom Harkin were Democratic stalwarts.
Over time, the midwest’s political animus has changed. In the words of long-serving Iowa Republican senator Chuck Grassley, “in the 1890s it may have been people expecting the government to take on the economic kingpin… now I would describe prairie populism [as] people who have distrust of government.”
You can read that here.
As the movement has evolved since the article was written in 2019, You can’t help but notice that while many South Dakotan’s prefer a small government, the populists within the party seems to be shifting hard to the left with their distrust of anything “big,” trying to paint it as somehow conservative or Republican, a term they use interchangeably as they don’t automatically identify with the party, so they use a buzzword that pops into their heads.
The fact that they are so dead set against anything that seems of scale, you find yourself asking are growth & opportunity now bad? Is success now bad? Because if all of that is bad, what are we supposed to be working for? How do we ensure continued prosperity and growth?
And that’s the problem with being against everything. You might be able to be against everything, but not everyone is going to buy into that eternal pessimism. There is the problem that many politicians face that at some point, you actually have to govern.
Governing may include promoting growth. That may include big projects, or thinking in terms of how we grow jobs, benefit a community or an industry. Because if we didn’t do that at some point, we’d all be reading by lantern light, and going down dirt roads.
How Republicans deliver for our community and our state are going to affect how we are viewed in terms of governing.
Those who lose sight of that might just find out the hard way at some point.