5 ways Republicans can change to win back a majority

In the wake of a decisive defeat, the GOP is taking a hard look in the mirror

A young pro-immigration protester in Los Angeles on June 26: Republicans may need to soften their stance on immigration if they want to woo Latinos in future elections.
(Image credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

One of the central lessons of the 2012 campaign is that President Obama's election in 2008 was not merely a backlash to the thoroughly unpopular Bush administration. For his re-election, Obama was able to cobble together the same coalition that brought him to power the first time — a broad, diverse tent that includes younger voters, Latinos, blacks, white liberals, blue-collar workers, and moderate women. It is a coalition that only has room to grow, with a whole new generation of voters already identifying with the Democratic Party's position on social issues, particularly gay marriage, and an expanding Latino bloc that does not have many friends in the Republican Party. If demographics are destiny (indeed, some analysts say Texas could soon become a swing state), then the GOP, in its current iteration, could find itself sitting on the sidelines for years to come. But all is not lost, conservatives. Here, five ways Republicans can change to win back a majority:

1. Reach out to Latinos

This is the most obvious and pressing GOP priority. Mitt Romney alienated Latino voters when he "declared he would veto the DREAM Act, which provides a route to citizenship for young illegal immigrants, and proposed a policy under which undocumented residents would 'self-deport,'" says Alec MacGillis at The New Republic. Elder statesmen in the party are already calling for moderation on the issue of illegal immigration, and cooperating with Obama on an immigration reform package could put the issue to rest, giving Republicans an opportunity to make headway with religious, socially conservative Latinos. The main question is whether the GOP can overcome a hard-right flank that views reform as "amnesty" for Latinos who are living in the country illegally. Many point to Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), a Cuban-American and Tea Party favorite, as the type of Republican star who can make that happen.

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2. Bring compassion back to the economic debate

Latinos are not one-issue voters. "As a group, they are poorer than average, pay less in taxes, use more government services, benefit from affirmative action, and are less likely to have health insurance," says Mark Krikorian at National Review. That makes the Democratic Party's big-government platform more appealing. Obama's economic message also resonates with blacks and white blue-collar workers in Ohio and Michigan, many of whose jobs were saved by the auto bailout. The GOP's inflexible embrace of the free market's capacity for creative destruction, coupled with tax breaks for the wealthy and a pervasive denigration of people on food stamps, doesn't resonate with wide swathes of voters. "Republicans will need to develop a more humane, proactive role for government in helping the working class," says Michael Gerson at The Washington Post.

3. Tone it down on abortion

Obama's victory was largely fueled by a "massive 18-point gender gap," says Laura Bassett at The Huffington Post. "Women's strong support for Obama, particularly in the swing states, comes following tireless efforts by his campaign to discuss reproductive rights issues, equal pay, and health care coverage for women." Of course, the GOP's anti-abortion stance is so ingrained in the party's identity that changing it would be tantamount to becoming another party altogether. But that doesn't mean the GOP can't focus on other women's issues, such as legislation intended to reduce gender discrimination in the workplace. "You can be opposed to abortion and still sound like you care about women," Jean Schroedel, a professor at Claremont Graduate University, told Bloomberg.

4. Embrace gay marriage

On Election Day, Maryland, Maine, and Washington became the first states to legalize same-sex marriage through a ballot referendum, the latest evidence that support for gay rights has growing mainstream appeal. The generational implications are clear: "Polls show the young are far more liberal about gay marriage than those over 50," says Elizabeth Weise at USA Today, "and far more likely to know openly gay people." It is a "battle that social conservatives have lost," says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. "As a national issue there is no other way to put it: The ship has sailed." If the GOP can't become more LGBT-friendly, it could alienate young, socially liberal voters who will one day form the vast bulk of the electorate.

5. Improve voter turnout

Team Obama's get-out-the-vote operation was a "strategic master class from beginning to end," says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. "Obama's base turned out at a rate that swamped GOP turnout efforts and polling models," say Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin at Politico. The Obama campaign figured out the granular details that win elections, and the Republican Party has to modernize its voting operations if it wants to stand a chance against the Democratic machine.

Editor's note: This article originally misstated which three states legalized same-sex marriage at the polls on Election Day. It has since been corrected. We regret the error.

Sources: Bloomberg, The Huffington Post, National Review, The New Republic, The New York Times, Politico, USA Today, The Washington Post (2) (3)

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