In the year 2013, the battle for the future of the Republican Party broke wide open. The Republican Party had seen such changes before. Following the fall of Lincoln and the rise of Johnson, and the winning of the war, the Party changed its goals. Eventually, the Party evolved on the issue of Civil Service Reform. It overcame the corruption of the Grant Administration and had to confront the impotence that followed Rutherford B. Hayes’ election theft. The Party would later confront the death of President McKinley and the rise of the first Progressive President, the great Theodore Roosevelt.
Years later, the Republican Party endured the Tea Pot Dome Scandal and went on to lead the nation, through President Calvin Coolidge, to an unparalleled age of growth and prosperity. Following the subsequent failures of Hoover to handle the Depression the party was exiled from the White House for a generation. But the Party returned to greatness with Dwight Eisenhower and rode through the Nixonian storm to eventually nominate the former actor Ronald Reagan as the GOP oversaw a new age of prosperity. As threats shifted, so did the party and it rose to meet the dangers of the times. But like all political parties in control, it overextended itself and it lost the White House in 2008. It began a rebuilding process where many in the Tea Party wing of the party took a libertarian direction that collided with the nation building agenda of the neoconservative wing.
After a couple of years of Tea Party gains, the Neo-cons began expressively striking back in the early going of the 2016 presidential nominating contest. First Karl Rove expressed a desire to pick off Tea Party conservatives in primaries across the nation. Later, NJ Governor Chris Christie began taking pot shots at Tea Party hero, Senator Rand Paul (KY). It was Paul who first ignited the concern over the surveillance state and indeed challenged Americans to reign in their unbounded government. Christie was offended by the Tea Party’s attempt to strictly enforce the Fourth Amendment’s Warrant requirement and demonstrated his opposition to a strict constructionist judicial philosophy.
Unfortunately, for Christie, he was stuck in the mindset of the Bush Administration of a prior age. He hadn’t yet realized how strong the libertarian-tinged wing of the Republican Party had become. The Governor had failed to take into account the effect that the growing surveillance state had taken on conservatives seeking a limited government.
It was with this opening salvo and his subsequent campaign that he prevented himself from becoming the eventual GOP nominee for President. Christie labored under the assumption that the neo-cons still controlled the national GOP conversation. He believed this because he lived close to NYC and the people that he interacted with at fundraisers believed they were still in charge. To be sure, the money handlers were still the most individually powerful people in both political parties. Karl Rove was preparing his comeback after his 2012 licking. But Christie proved to be out-of-touch and tone deaf to the sentiments and fears of the grassroots activists.
Christie thought that he had cracked the code of reviving the GOP in the Northeast. He had successfully been reelected in a democratic state by being the right person, in the right place, at the right time. He ran against a corrupt governor in a year when President Obama was leading a government that reeked of corruption. Christie has done good work in putting children ahead of teachers unions. And in late 2013, he was easily re-elected as Governor, despite a late push by the opposition. These successes combined with the culture in New Jersey had worked well for the Governor. But in taking on Americans who stood for their rights committed to paper, in the Constitution, Christie started down a path that he never seemed to recover from. Rather than attempting to lead the entire Republican Party, he believed that he could wage war with the grassroots portion of it.
But on the national scale, Christie alienated small-government conservatives, failed to excite young voters and did nothing to bring Hispanics back into the fold. A personality that initially seemed to fresh, turned out to be one that was ten years too late. Former Vice President Dick Cheney and other Hawks adored him. But he failed to connect with voters in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida.
Christie’s demise, along with Paul and Ted Cruz’s rise on the right turned out to be the defining factors in redefining the Republican Party for a new generation. It was during this time that the GOP reclaimed its title as the Grand Old Party and defeated Hillary Clinton in her final White House quest. It was the beginning of the long neo-con war with conservatives, but it yielded a new Republican Party to a generation of Americans who literally sought to shrink the size and surveillance of government, not simply slow it. It was the most recent re-birth of the GOP and a realigning that would pull the Republicans out of the wilderness following the Obama age and last for a generation.