Reince Priebus (AP)

At the first formal gathering of the Republican National Committee since the party’s electoral defeat in November 2012, GOP standard-bearer, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, argued that we must “recalibrate the compass of conservatism” away from Washington budget issues, but showed no inclination toward ideological retreat: “We do not need to change what we believe as conservatives — our principles are timeless.”

Fair enough. No one should expect Republicans to change their core beliefs just because some of those ideas make them unpopular with Democrats. As Jindal observed, liberals already have a party. Nor would any principled Republican be expected to abandon his or her beliefs out of political expedience.

Nonetheless, given the growing importance of minority voters, the increased acceptance of same-sex marriage and liberalized marijuana laws among politically-engaged younger voters, and the GOP’s cringe-inducing collective mismanagement of women’s issues during the last election cycle, Republicans will need to change something or accept permanent status as the underdog party in national elections. And as Democrats seek to make their national dominance permanent by capturing Hispanic-heavy Republican bastions like Texas and swing states like Florida, Republicans are going to have to get over any change-resistant squeamishness in short order.

Republicans will need to change something — or else accept permanent status as the underdog party in national elections.

There is an increasingly popular line of thought — championed by Newt Gingrich at the RNC — that the Republican message is fine, but we need to be better and more sympathetic explainers. This may be wishful thinking, like speaking more loudly to be understood in a foreign language, but a friendlier and more welcoming approach to conveying conservative principles is certainly worth trying. The “tone and tolerance” crowd aren’t proposing anything we shouldn’t have been doing as a party anyway, so like Pascal’s Wager, it seems a good bet. Let’s start yesterday.

The good news is that any number of Republican activists have, in fact, been laboring away in obscurity on new voter engagement for years. The most encouraging aspect of the RNC’s program in Charlotte last week was that it showcased the phenomenal efforts some members have already been making to reach out to urban voters, Hispanics and Asian and Pacific Islanders despite inadequate funding and lack of recognition. Even the women’s engagement programs that were highlighted at the conference seemed on the right track, just too small.

The question will now become one of resources — if at the next RNC meeting we see real money put behind ramping up these and other efforts to re-introduce the GOP message to non-traditional conservative voters, then I will be more sanguine about our future prospects as a majority party. The only thing I can ever remember agreeing with Joe Biden about is a quote he attributed to his father: “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.” The GOP now needs to put real money behind its grassroots, youth, minority voter and women’s programs to prove its seriousness. This part should be easy; newly re-elected RNC chairman Reince Priebus’ “Growth and Opportunity” initiative shows he is ready to take sensible steps to expand the party’s reach.

Unfortunately, the biggest challenge to the GOP is one of tone and tolerance within our own ranks. Pollsters presenting to the RNC in Charlotte argued that more voters self-identify as “conservative” than ever pull the GOP lever in the voting booth. By their account, self-identified conservatives are a majority in America today. So why can’t we put a majority together nationally on Election Day? One answer is that conservatives come in different flavors: economic, social, foreign policy, and now those focused on liberty and States’ rights.

There is an increasingly popular line of thought that the Republican message is fine, but we need to be better and more sympathetic explainers.

Libertarian-leaning Republican Ron Paul has retired, but his supporters are still active and they are the youngest and most media-savvy grassroots conservatives on the political scene. We, as a party, would be very foolish to lose their organizing skills and passion. The tension between the Liberty wing of the Republican Party and “establishment” conservatives remains palpable, but adding Libertarianism to the mix of conservative options answers a lot of the most confounding ideological challenges facing the Republican Party today: How do we attract a youth vote that is increasingly unconcerned with both religion and social conservatism? How do we counter the Democratic strategy to turn out the — now almost exclusively liberal — youth vote using referenda on legal access to marijuana (as happened in Colorado)? How do we appeal to Conservatives who reject Neo-Con enthusiasm for military adventurism in the name of democracy? Bringing the Liberty wing of the Party into a meaningful conservative coalition is a pragmatic and intelligent start to answering these staggeringly difficult questions.

Social Moderates need to be included as well. Since 2006, when former New Jersey Gov. Christy Whitman’s moderate PAC (It’s My Party Too) failed to catch fire, Northeastern Republicans have existed in a political purgatory where their extinction was regularly heralded by the mainstream press—with satisfaction exhibited by ideological purists on both sides of the aisle. The survivors are battle-hardened. Now is the time for the GOP to admit social moderates as equal partners. Inviting pro-choice and pro-gay marriage Republicans to the table will answer many of the concerns plaguing even ardent conservative women, younger voters and Log Cabin Republicans who support the economic and foreign policies of the GOP but find the party’s social policy platform too intrusive on their individual liberty.

Admitting moderates will not be easy for social conservatives whose political beliefs are not merely strong opinions but often articles of faith. Both sides will need to display extraordinary mutual respect and cool-headedness to make this work. Coalitions pre-suppose that the parties disagree on some matters but agree in the main. Ronald Reagan is said to have been a pragmatist regarding political alliances, viewing a colleague who agreed with him 80 percent of the time as an ally, not a 20 percent traitor. As in most things, our party should follow Reagan’s lead.

So I say “yes” to improved tone and tolerance — both when reaching out to potential new conservative voters as well as within our own ranks. No one person needs to change his or her views, but all self-identified conservatives need to be accorded respect and opportunity within the GOP. We need to learn to accept internal debate — including in primaries — but vote as a block. This is how the GOP will assemble a winning conservative coalition for 2016.


Tags: Election 2012

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  • stephenwhitt

    “like Pascal’s Wager, it seems a good bet”

    This quote reveals all. Pascal’s Wager is not a good bet. If some god exists, and you believe in some god, odds are you’ve picked the wrong one, so you’ll be punished just as if you never believed. If, on the other hand, (as all the evidence indicates) there are no gods, and it’s just us, then belief in the supernatural gets in the way of real solutions. Both political parties need to abandon appeals to ancient superstition and realize that we are our only hope for salvation. Ancient cryptic writings don’t hold the answer; we do. Which political party will have the courage and honesty to champion that message?

  • massappeal

    Thanks for this fine analysis. In addition, I suspect that having a bloc of moderates and pragmatic conservatives within the Republican party who refused to engage in the tactics of delay and obstruction that the party’s representatives in Congress have used these past four years would be another (perhaps difficult!) step in the direction of rebuilding the Republican party.

  • J__o__h__n

    It isn’t just the flawed messengers that the voters have rejected, but the odious policies of the Republican party on social and economic issues.

  • TJtruthandjustice

    The Republican Party of 2013 is the most ethically and intellectually bankrupt political entity in memory. The hypocrisy of this party is absolutely stunning. This party is not the party of free enterprise. It is the party of corporate cronyism. They say welfare stinks, unless you happen to be a wealthy banker, in which case, no-questions-asked bailouts are par for the course. Spending money on rotting roads and bridges is fiscally “irresponsible,” but spending hundreds of billions of dollars on overpriced, unneeded weapons used to kill people is not. Illegal immigrants stink, unless they happen to be working for you under the table, in which case it’s a wink and a nod. Privacy and property rights are paramount, unless you happen to be talking about your own body or your own bedroom, in which case the Republicans are all over you. This isn’t about “tone” or “positioning.” This is a party that is rotten to its central core.

    • NamePick

      Well said! The only “solution” for the current Republican party is to be removed from civil society.

    • durham kid

      Too accurate, I am sad to say.

      And yet we do need opposing viewpoints in order to keep the party in power honest – that balance makes us all safer.

      • TJtruthandjustice

        Agreed. A conservative viewpoint provides value, as long as it is intellectually consistent.

      • Jasoturner

        Safer and smarter. It’s not like republicans have always been corporate sock puppets. Dare I say it, that Nixon enacted some good and reasonable domestic policies?

    • Jasoturner

      Word! Well said.

  • CAS10

    I’d like to know which pollsters said conservatives were the majority voters…the same ones that told them Romney was going to win?

    While I’ll give Kerry Healy credit for attempting to advocate for moderates, I don’t see the current Republican leadership changing their tune much, unless its to trick people. The people need to pick new leaders for this. Especially because of their tendency to attempt to rig elections, etc. A lie is a lie, a cheat is a cheat, you can cover it up with marketing…but it doesn’t change the character of the individual.

  • CAS10

    It’s also the party that denies research from credible sources and is anti-science. The last thing we need is a bunch purposefully ignorant people dominating the country. You cannot expect people like that to be qualified to handle complex social, environmental and economic issues, such as education, climate change, and poverty/human rights.

    • NamePick

      Republicans are the enemy of intelligence and knowledge. They want to cut research funding as much as they want to cut social welfare programs. Look how they block Obama’s appointees and hate Elizabeth Warren.

      Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to his fellow GOPers:

      “We’ve got to stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults. We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I’m here to say we’ve had enough of that.”

      You can’t stop being the stupid party unless you get rid of your stupid leaders. That isn’t going to happen. Stupid people have lots of money and power.

  • Andy Koenigsberg

    Spoken like the true northeastern conservative you are. Improved tone won’t cut it. Tolerance? Good luck with that.

    • Jasoturner

      She’s going as far as republican orthodoxy allows before excommunication. Feel bad for her or not, but any reasonable republican is badly boxed in when they start openly contemplating the nature of the party. There are many third rails…

  • Mark

    One niggle is that neither party has “a message” – they both have many messages, some obviously at odds with each other. I always used to say that of the main Republican blocks (social conservatives, libertarians, corporatists, and big military supporters) at least 3 of the 4 were naturally synergistic, and previously the social conservatives were tolerated. In the Democratic party several of the main blocks were openly antagonistic.
    On the left, the Unions *used to be* antagonistic to the minorities and the environmentalists, and the environmentalists were certainly antagonistic to a lot of corporate activity which put them at odds with the unions. The out-and-out socialists didn’t really have anything in common with the tree huggers, etc.
    This disparity has always made Republicans the more cohesive.
    I think what’s destablized the old balance is that the minority block has become much more important, and as the influence of unions has waned, they’ve turned to minorities as allies rather than as competition. So the overt dissension in the Dems ranks has lessened while the block the Republicans overlooked took on more importance.
    A lot of Republican messages will still resonate (balanced budgets, fiscal responsibility) – but the problem both parties have always had on that message was that the voters have always wanted to have their cake and eat it too, and those ends will never touch. In the last 50 years, the Dems have been known as “tax and spend” trying to bridge the voters desires but it’s equally valid to say the Republican approach has been “spend and debt.”
    It’s been several generations since we’ve had a leader who could make Americans swallow any bitter pills.
    St. Ronnie was almost all form and no substance, having called a $60B deficit under Carter “immoral” and yet never having submitted a budget himself less that 3x that in the red. If anything Reagan actually proved the Keynsean position more effectively than anyone else.

  • Aoki

    It’s not that conservative politicians are too stupid or ignorant to understand global warming or other scientific issues. They reject anything (fact or otherwise) that does not support their existing positions. These positions are often taken out of self-interest, pandering to a particular voting block, or just antipathy to something (foreigners, change, anything they don’t understand). As another commentator said, this makes them morally corrupt albeit unbeknowst to them. Does Fox know it is telling outrageous lies to scare the populace or does it believe it is lightly spinning the data to get the core message across? Where’s the line?

  • durham kid

    Ms. Healy’s comments are welcome but it seems to me that the Republican party of today has much more serious problems than she seems to recognize. By contrast, the Democratic party has been practicing tolerance as long as I can
    remember – it includes all sorts of races, religions, sexual
    orientations, etc, etc, etc.

    It seems to me that the voices of the Republican party – with a few
    exceptions – have fanned the flames of intolerance and encouraged a
    disdain for science and facts to such a degree that it will be a long
    road for them to return from.

    In the past, Republicans would recognize a problem and find a conservative solution to it – Governor Romney’s solution to health care in Mass was inherently Republican – requiring people to take personal responsibility to have their own care – or suffer fines. Today Republicans generally deny there is any problem if it is not convenient to their world view.

    That is a recipe for disaster for them – and for the rest of us as long as they resist the change that is necessary for us to address these enormous challenges.

    We simply cannot afford the wasted time.

  • Bill

    I heard a top ranking Republican on All Things Considered
    who said the “tone” of the party would change but not their conservative views
    on woman’s reproductive rights and marriage equality. If this happens then they will keep loosing

    William Weld where are you!

    • Mark

      This American Life covered the Republican national convention in 2004… It was a fascinating demonstration of the schism in the party. On the convention floor and in the planks there was all this condemnation of homosexuality. Downstairs Weld was talking to the Log Cabin Republicans bragging about how he was the one who appointed the MA chief justice who brought about marriage equality.

  • EastCoastElitist

    “…collective mismanagement of women’s issues during the last election cycle…”

    Yeah, mismanagement was the problem. Not like it was a godawful policy chicken coming home to roost. Definitely a management problem not an issue of substance. Distract enough voters with a shiny object before the next election everything will be fine… Gimme a break.

  • Jasoturner

    Inadvertently hilarious:

    “No one should expect Republicans to change their core beliefs just
    because some of those ideas make them unpopular with Democrats.

    I got bad news for you lady, the platform isn’t unpopular with democrats. It’s unpopular with Americans. And unless the republican party can tame the crazies running the asylum, they are pretty much doomed. Because the rubes have figured out they were being scammed.