Rebuilding the GOP: Can Republicans pitch a bigger tent?
The party must come to grips with the 'demographic realities' reshaping the US electorate and devise new strategies for connecting with growing populations of minorities, single women, and youth.
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Next on the GOP's agenda: social issues.Skip to next paragraph
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"The GOP cannot continue to engage in fire-and-brimstone rhetoric with respect to social issues," O'Connell says. "The GOP mantra for the past decade has generally been, 'Our way or the highway.'... And while the GOP is primarily a pro-life, traditional-marriage party, it can maintain those positions and win in a national election, but it has to acknowledge that not everyone may agree with those positions."
In other words, the GOP doesn't need to change its stance on abortion or start cutting ribbons for Planned Parenthoods across the country; it simply needs to shut down rhetoric about Planned Parenthood and "legitimate rape" and moderate its position enough to allow abortion supporters to consider the party.
Here, Republicans can look to Romney for guidance. "Romney started this by saying I am pro-life with exceptions, but I am not going to push to change our current abortion laws," O'Connell says.
The GOP can make inroads among new parts of the electorate "if, and only if, it stops being the police of social issues," Hudak says.
But how does it forge a platform more palatable to a changing America while remaining true to its conservative principles, and without alienating its base? "That's their challenge," Hudak says. "Tiptoeing through a mine field."
The best strategy, he says, is one Republicans themselves honed on same-sex marriage.
"It was on everyone's lips in '04 and '06, then [the GOP] realized people are changing their minds, no one cares about this. And what they did was just stop talking about it," Hudak says. "Maybe that's what they need to do on abortion, just stop talking about it."
As for immigration reform, both O'Connell and Hudak say there is a strong economic argument to be made in favor of reform. The party will find a receptive audience among business leaders and moderate Republicans, as well as Mormons, whose church is pro-reform, and Roman Catholics, whose institutional memory of ill treatment renders them sympathetic, they say.
In short, it's more of a messaging problem than a principles problem, O'Connell says.
"I don't know necessarily that [the party] needs to change principles as much as it needs to change the way it communicates. We have a communication problem on social issues," he says. "[We need to] figure out how to better communicate, package, and sell our policies."
What does a remade GOP look like?
"It's one that is definitely more inclusive," O'Connell says. "It better reflects the battleground states in terms of demographics; it looks more like Florida and Virginia. It's also one where fiscal issues trump and [one that] recognizes not everyone agrees on social issues."
Hudak takes it a step further.
"A well-reinvented Republican Party has to be the party of fiscal responsibility and fiscal pragmatism, and it needs to get away from social issues entirely.... Social issues will go the way of women's suffrage – no one's going to care about it. But we're always going to have economic problems. We're always going to have periods of recession in a cyclical capitalist economy. Brand yourself as an economic policy party and you do well.
"That's what a reinvigorated, reinvented, reenergized Republican Party looks like. The path [to get] there is a rocky one, with demographic speed bumps; but if you can talk economy, you can get there."
Making a Difference