What is the future of the Republican Party? According to news reports, Donald Trump still controls the party despite losing the presidential election, and other party leaders have been reluctant to challenge his leadership.
How is this Trump Republican Party different from the Grand Old Party (GOP) of the past, and what is its future?
To help us address that question at the state level, we talked with former Representative Jim Lowther, who represented this area in the Kansas Legislature 1977-1996. Mr. Lowther knows well the Republican Party in this state; he registered as a Republican on his 21st birthday and is now 92. Few Republicans in Kansas have more experience with the GOP.
During his years in the Legislature, Mr. Lowther served on the House Education Committee and chaired that committee “for several years.” He also served on the House Appropriations Committee, the Oversight Committee for Higher Education, and the House Taxation Committee.
Before he was in the Legislature, he worked on Bob Dole’s campaign when Dole ran against Bill Roy for the Senate. He also worked with Nancy Landon Kassebaum. “They were the type of politician who was moderate in a lot of respects. Dole was a fiscal conservative, but he was socially moderate and sponsored some social legislation in Congress,” Lowther said.
“I don’t think we had the extremists — the far, far right Republican. That’s one of the biggest changes I’ve seen,” Lowther said. “Moderate Republicans are a minority now in the party. A while back we had an election where Barbara Bollier, a Democrat, ran against Dr. Marshall for Kansas Senator. A couple dozen of us Republicans supported her — the former Speaker of the House, a former judge of the Supreme Court, a lady who was the head of the Republican Party. A lot of us felt that Bollier, who had been a Republican and switched [parties], was the person we felt would be the best senator for this state. I got criticized for not voting Republican.”
During the time before and during his years in the Kansas Legislature, Lowther noted a difference in Republicans’ point of view. “There were Republicans who weren’t extremists and hardline and putting the Party above everything, rather than putting the people ahead.”
Over a period of time, he said, “the number of conservatives, who I consider extremely far right, were elected and are now in the majority. I think that even the Democratic Party shifted from its far left position; now many are not the Bernie Sanders type of Democrat, they’re moderate. I think it’s the shift and not just in the state — it’s been across the country.”
Another difference now is a willingness to work with the other party. Lowther recalled his experience in the Kansas Legislature: “Republicans and Democrats worked together quite a bit. There were times we were at odds. A lot of times Democrats would vote for a Republican bill and visa versa. ‘Compromise’ was not a dirty word back then. Negotiations would take place in good faith.”
Lowther would like to see change within the GOP, but change will not be easy. “When the election comes along and a Republican runs for office, and a conservative is in the race, and if he or she has no opposition, the public, which is heavily Republican, will vote that person in regardless of their political position. What we need are more moderate Republicans who will throw their hat in the ring. I don’t know how you get people to run. How do you motivate them?”
Asked his opinion of the national political climate today, Lowther responded, “I would like to see more elected officials put what is best for the people ahead of what might be good for the party. The people’s needs should be first — not the party. It used to be more politicians were interested in doing what was best for their constituents rather than just what is best for the party.”
To further emphasize his point, Lowther quoted Paul Krugman, columnist for the New York Times, who was addressing Republicans’ counter proposal to President Biden’s current proposal to address pandemic issues: “It’s not just that the G.O.P. proposal is grotesquely inadequate for a nation still ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. Beyond that, by their behavior — not just over the past few months but going back a dozen years — Republicans have forfeited any right to play the bipartisanship card, or even to be afforded any presumption of good faith.” (“The Republican Economic Plan Is an Insult,” Feb. 1, 2021)
“I would go along with that,” Lowther said.
Mr. Lowther’s key message: “The people’s needs should be first — not the party.”
We agree wholeheartedly!