The reshaping of the GOP
The most fertile ground for Republicans is the growing ranks of independents. And efforts to rebrand the party from the inside are prompting a stir within a new generation of young politicians.
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The irony is that the leaders who did appear all subscribe to the conservative social agenda, but are not seen as being “of” that movement – and thus have the potential to attract a larger constituency. Still, alienating social conservatives, like 2008 candidate Mike Huckabee, who criticized the “listening tour” idea, is risky business for the GOP.Skip to next paragraph
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The challenge at the heart of the party’s rebuilding effort is to preserve its existing coalition – economic and social conservatives – while convincing ordinary Americans in the middle that the party is addressing their concerns, not captured by rigid ideology. The loud voices on conservative cable TV and radio have made that challenge all the more difficult.
It all goes back to the big tent. And Reagan’s model still applies, says Princeton political historian Julian Zelizer. “Reagan certainly did a lot of things social conservatives did not like,” says Mr. Zelizer. “Abortion was not the centerpiece of his administration.”
Ted Cruz, a candidate for attorney general of Texas who has captured national GOP attention, says that in recent years, the party has had the worst of two worlds: “They have gotten away from core conservative principles of limited government and individual opportunity and responsibility, but at the same time, have employed rhetoric and framed the argument in a way that has driven people away.”
Reagan didn’t boast about how conservative he was. “What he said was, ‘Look, I’m standing up for common-sense values that every small town in America and every small business and family has understood for centuries. This is who we are,” says Mr. Cruz.
Still, the GOP faces a tall task in reengaging large swaths of the population it has alienated – moderates, moderate women in particular, minorities, gays. Judy Singleton, cofounder of an Indiana program that trains Republican women for political leadership, wishes the party would go back to its traditional focus on national security and fiscal conservatism and stay silent on social issues. “Some of these people act like abortion and [opposition to] gay marriage are what define you as a Republican, and women are saying no,” Ms. Singleton says.
If the view from Washington has looked bleak for Republicans until recently, outside the Beltway the party has some reasons for cheer. A new generation of young Republicans is aiming high in politics. In St. Petersburg, Fla., two-term mayor Rick Baker shows that a Republican can govern successfully in a Democratic city. Meet, too, Colorado’s Josh Penry, former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Ted Cruz of Texas, aspiring state attorney general and son of a Cuban immigrant.
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