When Senator Phil Berger became Senate President Pro-Tem of the North Carolina Senate, he clearly followed the model established by his Democratic predecessor, Marc Basnight. Berger runs an organized caucus that rarely airs its laundry in public. If there are power struggles, we don’t hear about them. They put forth a unified front. And we don’t hear about scandals or corruption. Whatever you may think about Berger politically or personally, he runs highly functional Republican caucus and senate operations.
Right now, Republicans in North Carolina could take other lessons from Democrats. In the aftermath of 1960s and 1970s political upheavals, Republicans became an ascendant party while Democrats moved further to the left than the country as a whole. Democrats in North Carolina, though, held onto a more moderate approach to governing that kept them in power most of the time. As the national GOP descends into factionalism and extremism, the state GOP should follow that example.
North Carolina Democrats largely pretended that the national party didn’t exist. They stayed focused on a North Carolina-centric approach to policy. In 1984, when Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale came to the state, none of the top-of-the-ticket candidates greeted him or campaigned with him. Now, granted, those Democrats lost along with Mondale the year, but the party held onto the legislature until the GOP wave of 1994 and returned to power in the 1990s and held on until the 2010 wave. Other Southern states in this period shifted hard right, including Virginia and South Carolina, though Virginia changed directions beginning in 2009.
Republicans in North Carolina should distance themselves from the national civil war within their party. To do so, they should probably reject the more extreme measures that fire up the Democratic base. They should buck the national GOP agenda that pushes divisive measures like voter suppression disguised as voter integrity. Pushing laws that limit access to the ballot box has done more to energize and organize Democrats than stopping any imaginary fraud. Just look at Georgia.
They should work to incorporate immigrants into their communities. If we’re going to fund much of our government and safety net moving forward, we will need younger, immigrant workers paying taxes and social security. Businesses will need both their skills and expertise to succeed as the country’s birthrate continues to fall. They could make community college more accessible for immigrant children and get sheriffs out of the business of doing ICE’s bidding.
Whether Republicans want to admit it or not, Trumpism is rooted in nativist and White nationalist philosophy. The North Carolina GOP could reject the tenets of the movement while making overtures to both African American and immigrant communities. They don’t need to abandon conservative principles, just those that promote continued racial divisions. Instead of censuring a long-serving US Senator, they could show the country how to get past the division wrought by Trump and build a party for the future instead of one rooted in reactionary sentiment. While they may alienate part of their older, dying base, they could be building a newer, more dynamic one.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >