What does the Republican party need to change in its platform if they wish to win future elections?
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 17:11
The results of Tuesday’s election have now begun to sink in for me and many other conservatives, and the predicted soul-searching has commenced. Conservatives all over the country are wondering: what has to change for us to win four years from now?
Answers have been all over the place, everyone blaming something different for why things went wrong. A sizable portion of the conservative coalition says we have to stop nominating moderates, and another says we need to moderate on social issues.
Some say we need to find a way to increase turnout among whites. Others say we need to increase our appeal among minorities. Some say we need to become more libertarian to appeal to the youth, and others say we need to de-emphasize entitlement reform to appeal to the elderly.
All of these groups are worth listening to, and many of them have good points to be made as well. So let’s analyze all the different directions the Republicans could take, and see what the best prospects for future victory might be.
Every time Republicans have run a “moderate” candidate in the last forty years (Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain and now Mitt Romney), they’ve lost. Every time Republicans have run a “conservative” candidate in the last forty years (Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush), they’ve won.
In George H.W. Bush’s first term he ran essentially on a platform of continuing the Reagan legacy, and famously promised no new taxes. He won easily. In 1992 he ran as a more moderate candidate who had raised taxes and lost easily.
Further adding to this evidence is that appealing to independents in a close election is a failing strategy. In every close election going back fifty years, the candidate who won independents lost the popular vote — 2012, 2004, 2000, 1976, 1968 and 1960. Appealing generally to independents at the expense of the conservative base doesn’t work.
This doesn’t mean however that if Michele Bachmann had been the nominee she would have won, that would have surely been a disaster.
Appeal outside of the Republican base has to be more targeted than Republicans tried in the years they nominated moderates, and this is how they could win.
Socially conservative candidates took a beating on Tuesday, but so did socially liberal Republican candidates. To place blame on one specific flank of the party coalition is wrong as candidates of all sorts failed.
Sure, the disastrous failures of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock were very public, but less public was the failure of gay pro-choice GOP congressional candidate Richard Tisei.
Tisei was the favorite to win against a scandal-plagued incumbent in Massachusetts, but ended up losing by one percent. The main argument here is that being excessively anti-abortion as Akin and Mourdock were hurt them with women, and that is what cost them the election. Similar arguments about abortion in general is that Republicans have to stop being so pro life, because the majority of the country is not.
This simply isn’t true. A recent Gallup poll shows only 41 percent consider themselves pro-choice, compared to 50 percent who consider themselves pro-life. This isn’t a generational issue either. Gallup also shows that 18 to 29 year olds are the most likely group to say that abortion should be illegal under all circumstances, and the second least likely group to say that it should be legal under all circumstances.
I can only identify one thing that Republicans need to change on abortion if they want to start winning. They need to recognize that while God and rape are both topics that should be talked about with regards to the abortion debate, they need to stop mentioning both in the same sentence. Talking about “God’s will” with respect to rape pregnancy is where they go wrong — not that their religious views influence their opinions on abortion generally. This isn’t to say that opinions on social issues are shifting among the youth, but the shift isn’t on abortion. It’s on gay marriage.
Gay marriage is one of a very small set of issues where there is a clear generational divide: the country is clearly trending toward supporting gay marriage, and this is driven by increased support among younger voters. The GOP needs to recognize that they are on the wrong side of this issue from a historical perspective, and they’re losing voters because of it.
Changing the view quickly to agree with the Democrats would probably not work, but making incremental changes in policy toward gay rights — slowly easing in the reluctant flanks of the conservative coalition — could work.
Republicans could still distinguish themselves from the Democrats by emphasizing protecting religious institutions from the government forcing churches to perform gay marriages, but they will need to support gay rights to some degree at some point.
While Republicans as a whole have had difficulty winning youth voters, the libertarian wing of the conservative coalition has been very successful at winning over the youth. Cynics could say that this is purely because of their support for legalizing drugs, (and I would say that it is part of, but not all of their reasoning), but other things affect this as well.
Gay marriage is clearly a factor, but isn’t specific to the libertarian youth. Isolationism is a strong sentiment within the libertarian movement as well, and clarifying their views on when to use military force could help shore up support among the youth.
Perhaps the easiest way to increase libertarian support is to adapt to a more libertarian economic vision. The fiscal wing of the party is already in agreement with the libertarian economic vision so this should be a no-brainer. This is not to suggest that Republicans go all-out libertarian in any way, but leaning more in that direction would be helpful.