Not to put too fine a point on it, but Republicans have been taking a drubbing in national politics since the halcyon days of Ronald Reagan. The low point came in November 2011 with the re-election of Barack Obama—arguably the worst president ever to occupy the White House. When Republicans could not dethrone a president who had wrecked the economy, groveled before our enemies, blatantly broke campaign promises, promoted an entitlement mentality, arrogantly lived large while Americans suffered, and helped set race relations back 50 years, even the ever-optimistic Karl Rove knew things had to change.
In fact, after much head butting and finger pointing between and among conservatives, moderates, RINOS, libertarians, and Tea Partiers, Republicans of all stripes finally agreed that the GOP was in need of a major overhaul. Unfortunately, the various warring camps within the party could not agree on what that overhaul should look like, and this is where Republicans find themselves today. The Republican Party of today resembles a family that has decided to re-paint its home but can’t agree on the color. Should the party double down on conservative principles or abandon those principles and sell its soul for the sake of votes? Should the GOP seek to become nothing more than a slightly less wacky version of the Democrat Party? Should Republicans shamelessly pander to various groups that typically vote for Democrats? Should the party go to war against grass roots conservative movements and attempt to neutralize the Tea Party and libertarians? All of these options are currently being debated in Republican circles.
My answer to Republicans concerning these options is none of the above. In fact, I am concerned that the mainstream Republican Party does not even understand the problem much less know the solution. If the unthinkable happened and the leaders of the mainstream Republican Party asked for my recommendations on how to get back in the game, here is what I would tell them:
• Stop focusing on winning the White House and start focusing on winning America. Republicans have a superior worldview. It is the worldview of America’s Founders. But Republicans have done an incredibly ineffective job of showing Americans why it is superior, superior not just for the wealthy but also for the poorest of the poor. Opportunity and the freedom to pursue it are inherently better than entitlement, but Republicans have allowed the Democrats to convince a majority of voters that the new American dream is a life of economic slavery in which American citizens bow at the feet of government bureaucrats in order to receive their monthly allotment of government handouts. Consequently, the challenge for Republicans is not to win back the White House but to win back the hearts and minds of America with better ideas, better plans, and better principles. When they do this—and only when they do this—will the GOP win back the White House.
• Dance with the one who brought you. Historically it has been the Republican Party that has upheld America’s founding principles: limited government, low taxation, free-market economics, individual liberty, personal responsibility, and constitutional sovereignty. These are the principles that created the Reagan revolution that brought all of the various factions in the Republican Party, as well as a lot of Democrats, together to reclaim the America envisioned by our Founding Fathers. Now we have leaders in the mainstream Republican Party who want to go soft on these principles in an attempt to please certain demographic groups instead of doing the hard work of showing these groups that America’s founding principles are still the best principles for them and for America.
• Discard Obama Bashing as a Campaign Strategy. I am he first to admit that Barack Obama is among the worst of America’s presidents. On a personal level he is arrogant, slick, two-faced, doubled-tongued, and self-serving. Barack Obama behaves more like the beneficiary of hereditary royalty than an elected public servant. As a president his policies have not just failed, they have been disastrous for America and for individual Americans. He claims to be concerned about the poor and the down trodden, but his policies have hurt them more than anyone else. There is nothing wrong, of course, with pointing out the fallacies of his misguided statist policies, but the ironic and even perverse truth is that continually bashing the president just creates sympathy for him. Barack Obama does not deserve the misplaced sympathy of the American people. Hence, Republicans need to scratch Obama bashing of their list of political strategies. It’s not working.
• Do a better job of selecting candidates. It is hard for me to believe that the Republican Party could not have produced better candidates in the last two presidential elections than John McCain and Mitt Romney. Don’t get me wrong. Both are fine men worthy of respect and both have led extraordinary lives. But as campaigners they were bland, uninteresting, and wishy-washy. Neither was able to articulate traditional conservative principles or show why a life based on these principles is better than the entitled life offered by Democrats. Surely there are conservative candidates available who can do what Ronald Reagan did when he made Americans proud of their heritage and hopeful about their future.
• Stop Attacking Potential Supporters
These days mainstream Republicans spend more time on efforts to undermine the Tea Party than they spend on challenging the failed policies of Democrats. What mainstream Republicans don’t like about the Tea Party is that it constantly holds up a mirror to them and asks the hard question: Are you conservative or not? To mainstream Republicans, the Tea Party is like the friend who cares enough to tell you what you don’t want to hear. You know he is right but you wish he would go away. Well, the Tea Party, the Libertarians, and other grassroots conservative groups are not going to go away. In fact, as the Republican Party continues its drift to the left these groups are just going to grow. Republicans call themselves the party of Lincoln. If Republicans are truly the party of Lincoln, they need to learn to take a Lincoln-like approach to dealing with conservative groups that hold their feet to the fire on bedrock economic and social issues. One of Lincoln’s most famous quotes was: “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” This is precisely the approach mainstream Republicans need to take in dealing with the Tea Party, Libertarians, and other conservative grass roots groups. Any Republican candidate for national office who cannot successfully reach out to the Tea Party and Libertarians should not be given the nomination. Just do the math. Without the Tea Party and Libertarian vote, Republicans will continue to lose.