Do Republicans Need to Change?
If there is one thing that all political observers agree about, it is that if the Republican party is to survive, it must change a great deal. The platform that George Bush ran on, and the ideals of his Republican party, are dead. In 2010 and 2012, Republicans must run on a whole new set of principles, updating and adapting for the 21st century.
The amount the change the party needs is up for debate. Some, such as David Frum, Meghan McCain, and Christopher Buckley, think that the party needs to adapt and try to appeal to younger, more environmentally conscious, more socially liberal voters. These figures don’t get much attention from actual Republicans, but do serve as useful quotes sources for journalists doing pieces about why the GOP must change.
Others, such as Patrick Ruffini, Ross Douthat, and Soren Dayton, think the basic message is good, but the packaging is weak and outdated. For example, Douthat believes that social conservatives’ focus on abortion and gay marriage is limiting and impractical, and does nothing to address the larger issues such as the breakdown of the family. Ruffini points out that the Democrats have a considerable technological edge over the Republicans, and says that Republicans should start networking via blogs and using applications such as Twitter. The attitude of this group can be summed up by a Douthat quote “Reagan was right for his time, but now it’s a different time.” Douthat, Ruffini, and like minded people believe that Republicans should shift their focus to issues such as immigration, energy, and the environment.
There is, to be sure, some truth to both points of view. However, I believe both are wrong. Reagan ran on low taxes and spending, less government involvement in the private sector, a strong military, and an opposition to abortion (and now, gay marriage). Bush ran on much the same issues, with the addition of “compassionate conservatism.” (Basically, the welfare that Republicans deem acceptable). There is no reason to assume that these issues are less effective now than when Reagan used them.
The United States has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. Social Security and Medicare (the two biggest government intrusions into the private sector) are on the verge of bankruptcy. The national debt is out of control, and probably unpayable.
All these are extremely important issues—and ones that play to traditional Republican strengths. And as Obama expands the government, that growth will give Republicans even more material for attacks.
Many of the reformers see Republican opposition to abortion and gay marriage as real weaknesses, especially with young voters. I have never been able to understand, given that pro-life evangelicals and conservative Catholics form much of the GOP base, why so many believe that Republicans would be better off dropping their opposition to abortion and gay marriage.
True, the Republican stand on those issues probably drives off young voters. But even if the GOP were more socially liberal, are there that many young voters who favor an aggressive military and small government, but draw the line at supporting a party that takes a conservative stand on social issues?
The one area where relatively few conservatives seem to see the need for change is foreign policy. That is odd, considering that most of former president Bush’s unpopularity rose from his handling of the Iraq War. If there is one issue that presents a legitimate weak point for Republicans, it is foreign policy.
Those Republicans who think the party needs to change its focus don’t seem to have considered what sort of voter they actually want. They seem to want voters concerned with gay rights, the environment, energy policy, and immigration. There is a name for that kind of voter: a Democrat. Given that Republicans tend to oppose gay marriage, environmental regulations, alternate energies, and immigration, there really isn’t much room to make these issues the Republicans’ own, at least not without alienating virtually the entire base. And while many Republicans probably wouldn’t mind doing so, that base also happens to be the ones who vote in Republican primaries.
I predict that the next Republican president—whether he is elected in 2012, 2016, or 2020—will run on a platform very similar to that of George W. Bush. Those issues just work—and will as long as Americans groan about taxes, or care to win wars, or worry about the morality of abortion.
Not that winning on Bush’s issues is altogether a good thing. Bush did run on compassionate conservatism, after all, which most conservatives agree wasn’t a very good idea. Republican opposition to gay marriage disturbs me a little, given how unimportant it is compared to other, more pressing issues. And taxes are about as low as they can get, considering the amount of spending by the federal government.
But good for the country or not, traditional Republican issues work. (And the frontrunners for 2012 seem to agree—Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and Mitt Romney are all pretty traditional Republicans). These issues have worked in the past—and will probably work in the future.