How to Save the Republican Party

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

9 thoughts on “How to Save the Republican Party”

  1. Some other possibilities:

    – do not nominate a candidate who has disregarded 47% of the country,
    – do not nominate a candidate storing money in offshore bank accounts to evade paying taxes,
    – do not nominate a candidate whose positions are more elastic than most trampolines,
    – ( and most importantly) do not write an op-ed on how to save the republican party by claiming that “Republicans must find the man for this moment…”.

    Clearly a woman wouldn’t suffice..

  2. The current day Republican Party would be denounced by President Lincoln. By today’s standards, Lincoln would be seen as more of a progressive with regards to his views about civil and human rights. (He said of all Black women: “It is her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands without asking leave of any one else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others.”)

    Not to mention that he took on one of the bloodiest wars in American history to preserve the sovereignty of the federal government over the states. Not exactly a Republican/Libertarian value.

    Also, seconding Patryk’s above comment. The GOP can’t be well-lead by a woman?

    1. I agree with your first point. One thing I did enjoy about American History in high school was realizing how much the parties flip-flopped until they became what they are today! Republicans have not always been what we consider modern-day republicans.

    2. I have nothing against a woman becoming president, and I didn’t mean to suggest that whatsoever. I was playing on the words of the Bush speech.

      Right now it’s probably not time for the GOP to push a woman candidate, mainly because they don’t have a good one. Sarah Palin is absolutely unelectable and is much better off with a behind the scenes, fundraising role. Nikki Haley, the Governor of South Carolina, could be a decent nominee, but she’ll probably never beat out some of the bigger names. The Governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, would kill two birds with one stone as she’s also hispanic, but she brings nothing exciting to the table to be honest. As for Condoleezza Rice, she’s a one-dimensional candidate and will always be connected to the Bush Administration.

      However, if the GOP can somehow get a woman to the White House, it would be unbelievably huge for the party.

  3. Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower – all viewed as superficially great Republican Presidents – would today not only decry the free-enterprise-run-amok state of the Republican Party, but would today thanks to their ‘big-government’ values (Lincoln – basically having the feds give out cheap land, preserving the federal government, wielding federal power to solve social issues; TR – creating the first federal regulations on food production, federally supported economic policy; Ike – the largest infrastructural project, federally funded or otherwise, this country has seen, investment in science and exploration, distrust of the military-industrial complex which has pretty well dried up federal coffers as much as ‘entitlements’) would probably all be seen as moderate to liberal Democrats.

    Also, just to riff on the Pauls for a second – I just don’t understand the cult of personality behind Ron and Rand Paul. How can two men with such racist, sexist, homophobic and otherwise narrow-minded views be so popular simply because Ron Paul was against the Iraq War before many others and wants to legalize pot?

  4. I think there should be a follow-up where we evaluate and review the covert social, economic and international agendas of the Reagan administration. His cult of personality exists as it does today because of marketing, the fact that he was an endearing actor and his recent passing. That should do the job of explaining why that would be the worst idea since “Obamaloney”.

    1. My points about “finding the next Reagan” have nothing to do with his policies. Reagan, agree with his policies or not, was a transformational figure in American politics. By rebranding and masterfully communicating his conservative message, he changed the political landscape of the country and built a powerful coalition. If the Republican Party wants to be successful in the future, it must find a candidate who can emulate what Reagan did.

  5. I’d like to echo Daniel’s points regarding the serious historical amnesia that takes place when referring to these individuals, but also emphasize the absurdity of the deification of these presidents, including Obama.

    Washington was a wealthy slaveowner who was fundamental in the extermination of the Native Americans, to quote “the gradual extension of our settlements will as certainly cause the savage [Native Americans], as the wolf, to retire; both being beasts of prey, tho’ they differ in shape.”

    Lincoln wasn’t much better – (in regards to his refusal to denounce the Fugitive Slave Law), “I confess I hate to see the poor creatures [African Americans] hunted down…but I bite my lips and keep quiet.” He also remarked “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races…”

    Any well-informed observer can only cringe at the torrent of unregulated (but of course state-subsidized) corporate forces that Reagan let loose, virtually dismantling anything that was was left of the welfare state.

    As for Obama, his programs perfectly exemplify the system is he a part of the interests he is beholden to. To name a few, signed NDAA into law (legalizing indefinite definition and assassination of American Citizens), as well as the anti-protest bill, HR 347, refused to close Guantanamo, sent 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan, did everything in his power to prevent Palestine from obtaining non-state, observer status at the UN, oversaw a criminal bailout program that saw $14 Trillion*** of taxpayer dollars into the coffers of Bank of America, AIG, and the like. The list goes on and on and on and on and on.

    Any serious conversation regarding the state of this country has to be absent of these blanket assertions, and has to incorporate the actual historical record – a record far less lofty and patriotic than high school textbooks or Fox News make it out to be.

    Citations available upon request.

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