Tuesday was a brutal night for Republicans.
Incumbent presidents are tough to beat, but Barack Obama was about as vulnerable as they come. The economy is stagnant; his signature legislative achievement is unpopular; his party weathered sharp losses in the midterm elections – by now, you know the litany by heart. Yet Mitt Romney appears to have flipped only two states Obama won in 2008 (pending the final result in Florida).
When political parties lose brutally, a lot of new conventional wisdom crops up. Some of it’s right, some of it’s wrong. Here’s an early take on which is which:
1. Republicans have to move toward the left.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. There are two major political parties in this country in large part because they represent two sets of durable, mainstream beliefs. Sometimes one or the other does a better job of representing its beliefs, but neither ideology will be permanently defeated. Which leads me to …
2. The GOP has to ditch the tea party.
Wrong. Just two years ago, the GOP stopped Democrats’ congressional super-majorities in their tracks thanks to tea partyers. America hasn’t changed dramatically in that time, even if a successful tea-party candidate needs more polish than we’ve seen out of some of them (hello, Christine O’Donnell) to attract a broader audience.
The original animating concern of the tea party — halting the rapid growth of the federal government, from bailouts to debt to Obamacare — could have been a political winner Tuesday. (We don’t have to wait for the historians to marvel that the GOP in 2012 nominated the only guy who couldn’t capitalize on Obamacare’s lack of popularity.)
Romney might have made up for that failing if he’d joined the growing ranks of conservatives who support breaking up the biggest banks to ensure none is too big to fail. His comment during the second debate about his party’s devotion to Big Business at the expense of small businesses was his chance. He didn’t take it. A Republican with 2016 ambitions might, soon.
3. The GOP has to reach out to non-white voters.
This one’s absolutely true. There is plenty to criticize in Romney’s lack of minority outreach, but this is not his problem alone. Nor will it go away if the GOP merely highlights the promising, young, non-white stars they already have, such as Nikki Haley, Bobby Jindal, Susana Martinez and Marco Rubio.
Republicans have to explain why conservative ideas are good for minorities. They can’t simply trot out their ideas and expect minorities to recognize their brilliance when those voters have been told by Democrats, many of them for generations, that those ideas are intended to benefit other (read: white) people. When Republicans fail to engage minority voters, they effectively reinforce the Democrats’ argument.
It will take more than talking, though. It will take action. Here’s an idea about one policy that makes minorities most skeptical about the right: voter ID laws. Why not fight the notion these laws are about suppressing voting, rather than reducing fraud, by taking proactive steps to help put IDs in the hands of the people who think they’re being targeted?
4. Republicans must drop social conservatism.
Wrong. Social conservatism isn’t wholly out of the mainstream. Gallup’s long-term tracking of public attitudes about abortion, for instance, show the pro-life position is as strong as it’s been since Roe v. Wade. What’s out of the mainstream is a social conservative who can’t talk about opposing abortion without sounding as if he’s endorsing the act of rape. That cost the GOP two Senate seats and surely hurt Romney’s standing with some women.
Gay marriage may be different. Older voters who oppose it altogether are being replaced every day by 18-year-olds who couldn’t care less — and who don’t seem to change their stance as they get older. There was a time when Republicans could have pushed civil unions to make all couples equal before the law without changing the traditional definition of marriage. That time may have passed.
5. Georgia Republicans are a few years away from facing some of the same issues as the national GOP.
True, true, true. I’ll explain how they can avoid the same fate in a column coming soon to a blog very, very near you.
– By Kyle Wingfield