Republican Soul Searching

Patricio Navia

Buenos Aires Herald, March 19, 2013


The defeat in 2012 and the demographic shifts that presage tough times ahead for their party has driven Republicans to do some soul-searching. Though the effort is a welcomed and necessary step before the party regroups for the 2014 midterm elections, the sharp differences between the moderate and conservative wings threaten to derail the process altogether. As long as Republicans continue to disagree on the reasons behind their defeat in 2012, no amount of soul-searching will help them find a roadmap that can bring the GOP back to the White House.


The National Republican Committee (NRC) has issued a new document titled the Growth and Opportunity Project (GOP) that presents a roadmap for the Republican Party to transform itself into a majority party. Combining an assessment of Republican strengths and weaknesses, GOP offers recommendations on attracting moderate voters who agree with fiscal responsibility priorities but have divergent views on some of the more controversial stances on moral issues and social policies advocated by the conservative wing of the party.


The report has been warmly received by independent observers who fear that the right-wing shift in the Republican Party will make politics less competitive. Because democracy requires at least two parties with real chances of winning, the shift to the right will not just render Republicans unelectable. If the Republican Party is not competitive, the quality of US democracy will suffer. Some proposals included in the report are designed to attract minority voters, younger US citizens and middle-class women, three groups where Democrats have gained a comfortable electoral predominance. Calling on Republicans to embrace immigration reform and shape it with pro-business and pro-growth Republican values, the report unapologetically identifies Latinos as the electoral bloc that can turn future elections around in favour of Republicans. With some common-sense, but still conservative, proposals, the report also seeks to attract younger voters who hold more tolerant and moderate views on issues such as gay marriage and other moral values that have sharply divided conservative and Christian Republicans from the more liberal and business-oriented groups within the Party.


Yet, the report has not pleased everyone. Several prominent conservative Republicans have come out strongly against the proposals. Claiming that they belong to the Republican wing of the Republican Party, these conservative leaders have questioned the validity of a strategy that gives up on core values in order to be more electorally competitive. Curiously, several of those leaders have been associated in recent years with the Tea Party, an organization that has sought to take control of the Republican Party and seeks to defeat moderate Republicans in primaries even if that means that a Democrat will win the general election. Many conservatives believe that the GOP will never regain an electoral majority unless it stands up in an uncompromising fashion for their core values. Though it is not a majority within Republican voters or sympathizers, the conservative wing is sufficiently well-organized to influence the result of party primaries. Ironically, when turnout in a Republican primary is lowest, the Tea Party exerts its highest influence. Thus, even though reaching out to attract more voters is always a priority for all parties, the Tea Party will inevitably see its influence diminish if the Republican Party is able to attract more sympathizers to vote in its primaries.


In addition to opposition from within the Party, the Growth and Opportunity Project might not succeed in attracting Latino, women or younger voters to the Republican camp. The Project calls for immigration reform that offers a path to legalization, but falls short iof offering a path to citizenship. Naturally, immigration advocates will welcome a reform that allows more than 10 million undocumented workers to obtain legal papers. The quality of life of illegal immigrants will improve if the Republican-favoured proposal becomes law. But falling short of offering a path to citizenship will probably be enough to keep a majority of Latinos away from the Republican camp.


In that sense, conservative Republicans are correct in opposing a reform that compromises their core values but fails to make electoral gains among a key voting bloc. However, conservative Republicans are wrong in believing that they can regain majority support simply by holding onto their core values. If their core values are not shared by a majority of US voters, it helps little to be true to your beliefs.


The Growth and Opportunity Project offers some interesting suggestions on institutional reforms that will shorten campaigns and will make it easier for moderate candidates to run for office — and win their party’s nomination. Given that 30 of the 50 states of the Union have Republican governors, there will be plenty of opportunities to implement some of the policy recommendations of the report at the state and local level. If Republican voters see those policies implemented and witness positive results, the GOP report just issued can in fact become a new road map for the Grand Old Party (GOP) and can show the way for Republicans to regain control of the White House in 2016.