Feature

Republicans: A question of tone

Too many high-profile conservatives sounded like “an aging, white, bitter, and angry rump of the electorate.”

We conservatives have a tone problem, said Jim Geraghty in NationalReview.com. We got shellacked in the November election partly because too many high-profile conservatives sounded like “an aging, white, bitter, and angry rump of the electorate,” full of bile and contempt. Talk-show host and conservative hero Rush Limbaugh called law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” who wanted “to be paid to have sex,” because she advocated for subsidized birth control. Ann Coulter insisted on using the term “raghead” for Muslims. Opponents of gay marriage likened homosexuality to bestiality, while Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock “confirmed every wavering woman’s suspicion of pro-life conservatives” when they spoke dismissively about rape victims. Republicans “must choose,” said Conor Friedersdorf in TheAtlantic.com. Do they want to ever win the votes of young people, women, and minorities? Or will they continue to serve as Limbaugh’s “ditto heads,” guffawing when he plays a song called “Barack the Magic Negro”?

Spare me the hand-wringing about the Republican tone, said Jay Nordlinger in NationalReview.com. Yes, Limbaugh sometimes “screeches and bellows and huffs,” but he’s a performer. The conservative movement shouldn’t try to speak with one politically correct voice. The Democrats certainly don’t. Obama aide Stephanie Cutter labeled Romney a felon, Sen. Harry Reid claimed inside knowledge that Romney had paid no taxes, and Joe Biden warned a black audience that a Republican victory would “put y’all back in chains.” Obama campaign ads called Romney “Not one of us.” How’s that for tone? 

As a matter of strategy, though, it’s not wise for Republicans to “express disdain” for major voting blocs, said Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. In the primaries, Republican candidates tried to prove their patriotism with vows to rid the nation of Outsiders through “self-deportation and the building of walls.” On the issues of abortion, contraception, and aid to the poor, the tone of the campaign was “nasty and small.” And now, Limbaugh moans, “We’ve lost the country,” while Coulter cries, “There is no hope!” Not so—not if Republicans adapt to demographic change, and start retooling the conservative message to appeal to young libertarians, single women, and Hispanics. The task of constructing “a more hopeful conservative tradition” must start with more inclusion and civility—and fewer insults. 

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