If I was a Republican today …
If I was a Republican today would I be encouraged or troubled by the direction of my party?
I think the first acknowledgement I would make is that the party has been pretty successful in the past 30 years, barring the two most recent election setbacks.
The nation has moved to the right of the political spectrum, and become far more conservative. And a great deal of that shift can be attributed to the Republican Party.
Today the party of Ronald Reagan is so much farther to the right than even before that Republican icon Ronald Reagan would probably be purged by the party for his several tax increases and his reduction in nuclear arms in a deal with the Soviets.
Reagan, would be among those like Charlie Crist, Arlen Spector and John McCain, just not conservative enough to be Republicans today.
But perhaps this conservative movement, evidenced by the energy within Tea Party supporters, is just what the Republicans need.
After two really bad elections in 2006 and 2008 is it not quite natural for a political party to make some changes and re-establish its identity?
And a new poll by the Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College reports that a majority of conservatives (60 percent) prefer ideological purity to compromise, favoring consistent conservatism over political compromise and moderation.
And, according to several recent polls, voters are viewing Republicans more favorably than Democrats when asked which party in a generic election voters would support. So the winnowing of the party may be working to solidify the base for the future.
In this process there has been another, less noticed shift within the party.
The religious right, a long-time power within the Republican party, has lost a great deal of its influence, while Tea Party conservatives have gained influence. The rightward shift is then far more about fiscal values that moral claims.
But not everyone is certain that this direction will be sustainable for a national party over the longer term.
Steve Schmidt, Republican strategist, suggests in story form “There’s the type of church where the members go out hunting for heretics to kick them out.
“There’s the type of church where people go out looking for converts to bring them in. If we’re a political party that goes out hunting for heretics that’s not a strategically sound premise.”
Indeed, the trouble with purges is that less is most often not more, fewer elected Republicans are not better for the party, and losing elections on the basis of ideological purity is noble but not the same as successful.
And while there may be rewards in the 2010 congressional elections Republicans still face demographic problems in national elections.
The party is not winning Hispanic voters, the largest growth segment among voters. And Republicans do not garner African American voters in significant numbers, or gay voters, or a majority of women voters.
The base of the party in national elections remains white males most strongly in the South.
Republicans have been trailing Democrats in fund raising as well, although March was one of their best fund-raising months in recent history.
Right now Democrats have larger campaign war chests than Republicans and that is not a good omen.
Finally, Republicans may find Tea Party support as divisive as it is energizing by this fall if the Tea Party folks continue to assert their independence over political purity, supporting Tea Party candidates that could split the Republican vote at the polls.
If I was a Republican today I would feel good about 2010, not so good about 2012.
Jim Crawford is a contributing columnist for The Tribune and a former educator at Ohio University Southern.