They lose and immediately the chorus begins. Republicans must change or die. A rump party of white America, it must adapt to evolving demographics or forever be the minority.The only part of this that is even partially true regards Hispanics. They should be a natural Republican constituency: striving immigrant community, religious, Catholic, family oriented and socially conservative (on abortion, for example). The principal reason they go Democratic is the issue of illegal immigrants. In securing the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney made the strategic error of (unnecessarily) going to the right of Rick Perry. Romney could never successfully tack back.
For the party in general, however, the problem is hardly structural. It requires but a single policy change: Border fence plus amnesty. Yes, amnesty. Use the word. Shock and awe — full legal normalization (just short of citizenship) in return for full border enforcement. I’ve always been of the “enforcement first” school, with the subsequent promise of legalization. I still think it’s the better policy. But many Hispanics fear that there will be nothing beyond enforcement. So, promise amnesty right up front. Secure the border with guaranteed legalization to follow on the day the four border-state governors affirm that illegal immigration has slowed to a trickle.
…Imagine Marco Rubio advancing such a policy on the road to 2016. It would transform the landscape. He’d win the Hispanic vote. Yes, win it. A problem fixable with a single policy initiative is not structural. It is solvable. The other part of the current lament is that the Republican Party consistently trails among blacks, young people and (unmarried) women. (Republicans are plus-7 among married women.) But this is not for reasons of culture, identity or even affinity. It is because these constituencies tend to be more politically liberal — and Republicans are the conservative party.
…. the party has an extraordinarily strong bench. In Congress — Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Kelly Ayotte, (the incoming) Ted Cruz and others. And the governors — Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Nikki Haley, plus former governor Jeb Bush and the soon-retiring Mitch Daniels. (Chris Christie is currently in rehab.) They were all either a little too young or just not personally prepared to run in 2012. No longer. There may not be a Reagan among them, but this generation of rising leaders is philosophically rooted and politically fluent in the new constitutional conservatism.
Romney is a good man who made the best argument he could, and nearly won. He would have made a superb chief executive, but he (like the Clinton machine) could not match Barack Obama in the darker arts of public persuasion. The answer to Romney’s failure is not retreat, not aping the Democrats’ patchwork pandering. It is to make the case for restrained, rationalized and reformed government in stark contradistinction to Obama’s increasingly unsustainable big-spending, big-government paternalism. Republicans: No whimpering. No whining. No reinvention when none is needed. Do conservatism but do it better. There’s a whole generation of leaders ready to do just that.
…Some of the most important intellectual groundwork is needed on the role of government. Mitt Romney had a five-part plan to encourage job creation. He lacked a public philosophy that explained government’s valid role in meeting human needs. Suburban women heard little about improved public education. Single women, particularly single mothers, heard little about their struggles, apart from an off-putting Republican critique of food stamps. Blue-collar workers in, say, Ohio heard little about the unique challenges that face declining industrial communities. Latinos heard little from Republicans about promoting equal opportunity and economic mobility.
….Conservatives also face challenges on issues of national identity. The right will always stand for nationalism and patriotism. But during the Republican primaries, those commitments were expressed as the exclusion of outsiders — in self-deportation and the building of walls. The tone was nasty and small. Apart from moral objections, this approach is no longer politically sustainable. Romney won the largest percentage of white voters of any Republican since 1988. He carried both independents and senior citizens. Yet that wasn’t nearly enough. Republicans won’t win future elections with 27 percent support from Latinos, Romney’s dismal achievement. And Republicans won’t increase that support if they favor self-deportation.
The alternative is a vision of American identity preserved by the assimilating power of American ideals. And that would lead Republicans to endorse the Dream Act and to support a rigorous path to citizenship for undocumented workers already in the country.
Republican adjustments to cultural trends, particularly among millennials, will be difficult — although candidates could start by being unambiguous in their condemnations of rape. In fact, the tone taken by most Republicans on cultural issues has shifted considerably over the past several years. The pro-life movement has become more realistic and incremental. Republican opposition to gay marriage is increasingly falling back to the defense of institutional religious freedom. With nearly 50 percent of Romney’s support coming from religious conservatives, there is no rational strategy that employs them as a political foil. But it is more advisable than ever to make public arguments about morality in aspirational rather than judgmental ways.
The Romney campaign was a vast machine with one moving part, its economic critique. The next Republican campaign will need to be capable of complex adjustments of ideology, policy and rhetoric. And it will need one more thing: a candidate with a genuine, creative passion for inclusion.
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