Feature

Republicans: Time for a ‘big rethink’

Demoralized Republicans can no longer put off a conversation about “what the party really stands for.”

“What do we do now?” said Craig Shirley in The Washington Post. That’s what demoralized Republicans have been murmuring to each other since the GOP’s defeats in the presidential and Senate elections last week left the party a “smoking hole in the ground.” Opposition to Barack Obama bound the Republican Party together for the past four years, giving its warring factions a goal around which to cohere, and putting off an important conversation about “what the party really stands for.” Now we face a sobering reality, said Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal. “This election was in part a rejection of Republicanism as it is perceived by a sizeable swath of the voting public.” Only 27 percent of Hispanics, 33 percent of single women, and just 40 percent of voters under 30 voted for Mitt Romney. Even Asian-Americans rejected the GOP by a 73 to 26 margin. Clearly, many Americans believe “the GOP doesn’t like them,” and “a big rethink is in order.”

The first step is to reject the party’s extremism, said David Frum in TheDailyBeast.com. In recent years, the party has reacted to our country’s changing demographics by “becoming increasingly isolated and estranged from modern America.” The country is not what it was in 1980—today, single women outnumber married women, gay rights are widely accepted, and income inequality is punishing the middle class. In response to these changes, the party surrendered to “the most ideological fragment of the conservative base”—the angry, conspiracy-minded, old white males of the Tea Party and the Right’s “media-entertainment complex.” Inside the cocoon of Fox News, talk radio, and the Drudge Report, said Jonathan Martin in Politico.com, conservatives talk only to each other, and “shut out dissenting voices.” They thus convinced themselves that most Americans shared their bitter hatred of Obama, and their conviction that socialist, immoral, alien hordes were overrunning the country. When Obama won last week, many conservatives were shocked. To become relevant again, Republicans must leave their intellectually suffocating, “hermetically sealed bubble.”

You lose one election, said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post, and “immediately the chorus begins”: Republicans must tack to the center or die. What nonsense. This is still a center-right country, and in exit polls last week, 51 percent of voters agreed that government “does too much.” We lost because we “advanced a good argument not well enough.” Yes, Republicans also have a demographic problem, but it is easily fixed with “a single policy change.” The GOP should support amnesty for illegal immigrants already in this country, in return for more rigid protection of our borders. Hispanics are a “natural Republican constituency” of conscientious, socially conservative strivers, and once they start voting Republican, the party of restrained, rational government will resume winning elections.

You’re delusional, said Michael Brendan Dougherty in The American Conservative. About 57 percent of Latino immigrants benefit from social welfare programs, and the GOP will not get their vote by “simply translating its current ideological bilge into Spanish.” If the GOP becomes pro-amnesty, meanwhile, “the working-class white vote that created the modern Republican majority” will revolt in fury. To win over Hispanics and other immigrants, Republicans need to convince them they want all Americans to succeed. That can only be done by changing the party’s economic message, said Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg.com. Fairly or not, the GOP is now perceived as the party of the rich—a party that believes cutting the taxes of the wealthy is the solution to all that ails us. If conservatives propose “a practical agenda” to address the economic fears of women, Hispanics, and young people—a viable conservative alternative to Obamacare, for example, or tax cuts to make college tuition more affordable—they’ll find “their numbers improving in all of these groups, and outside them too.”

Fear not, Republicans, said Frank Rich in NYMag.com. In politics, no election victory or defeat is permanent. In 1964, Republicans were suicidal after Barry Goldwater’s landslide loss to LBJ. “Four years later, Richard Nixon became president.” In 2004, liberals were despondent over George W. Bush’s re-election, and we all know what happened next. Conservatives still have a “remarkably consistent and resilient” commitment to small government, and a diverse bench of young stars to preach that message, including Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, and Susana Martinez. When the soul-searching’s done, “this new Republican generation will find a way to put a kinder, gentler, Hispanic, female face on the GOP.”

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