GOP autopsy is starting point

Published 9:11 am Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The good news is the national Republican Party has conducted a fairly comprehensive self-examination in an attempt to broaden its appeal and avoid descending into irrelevancy.

The bad news is the national Republican Party has conducted a fairly comprehensive self-examination in an attempt to broaden its appeal and avoid descending into irrelevancy.

There is benefit to be had through a critical and objective re-appraisal to identify chronic problem areas and develop new approaches and messages to deal with them. At the same time, there is a risk that some will feel they’ve become designated scapegoats, responsible for election losses and for the low esteem in which the party is held by the public.

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Hence, the good news/bad news element.

The party, according to the report, is trapped in an ideological cul-de-sac and is perceived nationally at least as an out of touch organization unable to relate effectively to changing demographics and social mores. It is viewed, the report says, as predominantly old and white, obsessively protective of the wealthy, cold-hearted and apathetic — if not outright hostile — to the poor and minorities.

The uproar over the report exposed the deep divisions between two factions, one that believes the party has moved outside the national mainstream, and another that is convinced it can regain its stature by returning to its fundamental conservative philosophy.

Those who support change argue that it is crucial for the party to expand its reach to attract voting blocs who feel the party is uninterested in offering them a home. Others contend that candidates lost because they failed to draw clear distinctions between their view of government and that offered by Democrats.

The tension is not new, but it assumed greater visibility with the rise of the Tea Party and protracted and embarrassing intra-party disputes in the House of Representatives in particular over budget and tax issues, most prominently the effort to avert a default, approve an increase in the nation’s debt ceiling, and deal with the funding sequester.

Inevitably the report produced renewed focus on the caliber of Republican candidates who, with strong right wing support, defeated moderate incumbents in primary contests and went on to lose to Democrats in the general election.

The demand on the candidates for ideological purity, the report suggested, contributed to the losses.

There is an implicit warning in the document that the party’s dilemma can be traced to a persistent failure to recognize, appreciate and respond effectively to dramatic shifts in the national mood on issues such as same sex marriage, immigration reforms, and stricter regulation on access to firearms.

A majority of the country now favors all three and the Republican Party, by seeming to oppose all three, has placed itself at a disadvantage. What was anathema to the nation in the 20th century has gained broader acceptance in the 21st and the party is waging a losing battle.

The party’s response to the rapid growth in the Hispanic population has been marked by hardcore opposition to reforming the immigration system to, at the very least, recognize it is essential to deal with the 11 million undocumented aliens currently living in the United States. Rounding them up and sending them back to their country of origin would be prohibitively expensive and needlessly cruel.

Hispanic voters, along with African-Americans — a voting bloc lost to Republicans years ago and never regained — have thrown their considerable electoral clout behind Democrats, convinced that Republicans have ignored them and will continue to do so.

The traditional Republican philosophy of small government, low taxes, fiscal prudence and maintaining the predominance of the private sector over government control remains strong and effective, particularly when combined with credible programs to encourage private capital investment, economic growth and steady job creation.

At the same time, there must be a recognition that government has a crucial role to play in helping to enhance the quality of life for those Americans who face daily struggles to sustain themselves and their families.

The party must demonstrate its care and compassion, its willingness to listen to, understand and respond to the fears and hopes of those in need.

The internal study — controversial though it has become — represents a valuable starting point for the party’s competing forces to bridge the gap which separates them.

Irrelevancy is not an option.


Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. You can reach him at cgolden1937@gmail.