Friday, November 30, 2012

How the Republican Party could save itself

By Richard K. Barry

I'm not suggesting it was brilliance on my part, but just after the election I said that the Republican Party would break into warring factions on either side of an analysis of why they lost. On one side would be those who would say that the message was fine and that if only some technical aspects of the campaign could be fixed, they would win next time. On the other side would be those calling for a reexamination of basic values and orientation of the GOP.

It was a no-brainer, I understand. But it has been interesting to see who has come out on which side of the debate.

Mike Murphy, one of the smarter Republicans around, sees the need to do more than tinker with campaign techniques.

Writing in Time magazine he says:

Identifying the problem is easy. The Republican challenge is not about better voter-turnout software; it is about policy. We repel Latinos, the fastest-growing voter group in the country, with our nativist opposition to immigration reform that offers a path to citizenship. We repel younger voters, who are much more secular than their parents, with our opposition to same-sex marriage and our scolding tone on social issues. And we have lost much of our once solid connection to the middle class on kitchen-table economic issues.

He continues:

A debate will now rage inside the GOP between the purists, who will as always call for more purity, and the pragmatists, who will demand modernization. The media, always culturally alien to intra-Republican struggles, will badly mislabel this contest as one between "moderate" and "right-wing" Republicans. In fact, the epic battle we Republicans face now is a choice between two definitions of conservatism.

One offers steadfast opposition to emerging social trends like multiculturalism and secularization. The alternative is a more secular and modernizing conservatism that eschews most social issues to focus on creating a wide-open opportunity society that promises greater economic freedom and the reform of government institutions like schools that are vital to upward social mobility.

I'm not a Republican, but if I were I would be listening to Mr. Murphy. If the party does, there is no reason that they can't made a strong comeback in four years. 

Unfortunately for the GOP, as Murphy says, the easy part is identifying the problem. It's even easy to identify a solution. The hard part is effectively marginalizing the crazies in the party who have more recently had the power to reject a more "secular and modernizing conservatism," i.e., those who reject the obvious solution. 

Mr. Murphy has gleaned the correct lesson from the GOP's decisive loss. It's too early to tell whether enough of the decision makers in the party get it and whether they will be able to enforce the new vision that would flow from it. 

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