No words can describe the feeling of an election night loss. No matter how big or small the defeat, post-election pain could take weeks, months, or years to subside. Every four years, this pain must be felt. This year, fate chose Mitt Romney and his supporters to bear the burden of the nation’s decision.
Simply put, there was nothing positive to come out of Election Day if you’re a Republican. The presidential election turned into a perfect storm, as Obama won every swing state, including the likely Romney states of Virginia and Florida, en route to a landslide not even the furthest-left polls had predicted. The GOP also lost easy Senate races in Missouri, Indiana, Montana, and North Dakota, winnable Senate races in Ohio, Virginia, Florida, and Massachusetts, and failed to pull off an upset in Connecticut or Pennsylvania, which both appeared to be in play. In the end, what should have been a large net gain leading to control of the Senate turned into a net loss of two seats.
So where do Republicans go from here? Here’s my advice for the Grand Old Party:
1) Read Saul Alinksy’s Rules For Radicals
Rules for Radicals has long been the far-left’s political playbook. The book is a fantastic primer for politicians or community organizers looking to master the art of selling a message. If the Republican leadership were to read the book, they’d understand exactly how the left was able to destroy the public’s perception of Mitt Romney. Throughout the book, Alinsky lays out a gameplan to destroy political enemies. His advice regarding his twelfth rule, which says, “pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it,” was essentially the blueprint behind the Obama campaign’s “kill Romney” strategy.
Alinsky importantly advises radicals not to view the world as they would like it to be, but as it is. While this advice was meant to aid revolutionaries, it can apply here to social conservative reactionaries in the Republican Party. No matter how you feel about contraception, birth control, and abortion, it’s clear that these issues are losing ones for Republicans. While it’s more than fine to be pro-life, there’s no reason to make the female reproductive system the issue of a campaign with a controversial comment that would have accomplished nothing even if it had been completely correct.
2) Don’t Compromise on Your Values, Rebrand Them
The Republican Party has tried and failed in the past (most recently in 2008) to become a progressive-lite party instead of providing a true contrast to the Democratic agenda. It’s important for the GOP to realize that the perception of conservatism, not conservatism itself, is the problem. Remember, Ronald Reagan won 44 states in 1980 against an incumbent and was re-elected in 1984 having won 49 states and 525 electoral votes. If articulated properly, the conservative message has, can, and will win over the nation. A perfect example of this occurred in 2000, when George W. Bush won the election by branding his style of politics as “compassionate conservatism.”
I thought Mitt Romney did a decent job at articulating his message, but it was no comparison to Obama’s branding of the liberal message. For example, instead of flat out talking about tax increases, the president repeatedly called for the wealthy to “pay their fair share,” effectively leading the public to believe that he simply wanted to level the playing field for the middle class. When talking about his opposition to Paul Ryan’s entitlement reform proposals, Obama often used focus room-friendly phrases such as “we’re all in this together” to defend his stances. This kind of language misleads voters by playing to their emotions, but it works and it must be part of a winning campaign.
3) Build on and Expand Your Coalition
Winning elections are all about building a coalition of the willing. As seen with FDR’s New Deal Coalition and the coalition formed by Ronald Reagan that included blue-collar “Reagan Democrats,” a strong coalition can lead to sustained success for a party. Right now, the Democrats have built a successful coalition that includes the vast majority of single women, minorities, and beneficiaries of social programs. The Republicans, on the other hand, only hold such advantages with white men and evangelicals. While I don’t believe pandering is the answer, the Republican Party can certainly do a better job at reaching out to demographic groups that traditionally don’t vote Republican, much like Ronald Reagan did in 1980 when he did unprecedentedly well with women, low-income earners, and union members.
The Republican Party should especially attempt to win over Hispanic voters, as many of them are social conservatives who believe in “traditional family values.” As Ronald Reagan once said, “Latinos are Republicans – they just don’t know it yet.” Although Obama received over 70% of the Hispanic vote this time around, I believe the GOP could improve vastly on that number if they better articulate their message. I would also take the lead of Senator Marco Rubio and work towards comprehensive immigration reform instead of labeling illegal immigrants as enemies of the state. While Republicans don’t need to be for amnesty, cutting a deal that secures the border and speeds up the naturalization process would be in the best interest of everybody.
4) Accept Libertarians with Open Arms
There’s undoubtedly a growing “libertarian problem” in the Republican Party. Supporters of retiring Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who received the second-most number of delegates in the 2012 Republican primaries, haven’t been shy about expressing their feelings of disenchantment. At the 2012 Republican National Convention, Republican bosses changed certain party rules at the last minute to make sure many of Paul’s delegates were not seated and that the Congressman’s name wasn’t officially put up for nomination. Supporters of Dr. Paul made their voices heard at the ballot box, as many of them voted for the Libertarian nominee, Gary Johnson, who received over 1.2 million votes (0.99%,) more than all of the other third party candidates combined and the most in Libertarian Party history.
While the establishment may like to ignore libertarians such as Paul and Johnson, the movement is undoubtedly growing, especially among young voters. I believe the solution is for the GOP to incorporate libertarian elements into their platform while not compromising on the traditional conservative values held by most of their base. For example, instead of being vehemently against gay marriage and marijuana legalization, the party could stand for leaving these issues to individual states to decide. This would placate everyone in the party and would take a unique states’ rights approach to social issues that should appeal to all Americans.
Republican leaders must also learn from the Bush Administration’s failures and put away the war drums. While I’m not suggesting the Republicans nominate the next George McGovern, a smarter, balanced, pro-American foreign policy would have a wide appeal and still serve as a contrast to the left’s pro-United Nations, internationalist approach to foreign policy. While most Americans are for a strong national defense, they are also against using military force absent of a direct national security threat. Ironically, George W. Bush actually had this right in 2000, when he campaigned against the nation building of the Clinton Administration.
5) Find the Next Ronald Reagan
One man can change a nation. From Washington, to Lincoln, to FDR, to Reagan, to Obama, America has been impacted by legendary figures who have risen to power during times that tried men’s souls. During his nomination acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention, George H. W. Bush talked of a man who must be able to define and lead a mission. Bush said in the speech, “I am that man.” Republicans must find the man for this moment — a moment that is a make-or-break one for the Party of Lincoln and the principles it espouses.
Feature photo from CBS News