Published in the Telegraph-Journal 13th November 2012
Republicans have begun the painful self-reflection that follows electoral defeat. Two camps have emerged. One believes that the Republican Party needs a thorough re-evaluation, beginning with principles and strategies. The advocates of this group think that Romney and the Republican Party lost the election because the Party’s philosophic propositions lacked ideological coherence and failed to address America’s emerging and changing demographic realities.
The other camp thinks that Romney and the Republican Party would have won if the Party’s election strategies and tactics had been more consistently developed based on principles of the new conservatism. This group believes that Republicans should redouble their efforts based on established ideological principles rather than seeking a new foundation.
Which group wins will determine the future of Republican prospects for a generation.
Influential conservative Charles Krauthammer thinks it would be a mistake for Republicans to undergo a radical change. He stresses that, “Republicans should not abandon the party’s philosophical anchor. In a world where European social democracy is imploding before our eyes, the party of smaller, more modernized government owns the ideological future,” ignoring the fact that a key source of European instability was the financial crisis initiated by Wall Street. His version of reality is that the Democrats are not the demographic future because Republicans could “counter that in one stroke by fixing the Latino problem.” According to Krauthammer, “Republicans lost the election not because they advanced a bad argument but because they advanced a good argument not well enough.”
One of the key questions that emerged during the months of the election is: what precisely is the new conservatism? Its underlying principles appear to be government reform, low taxes and a minimal regulatory structure for business that would minimize obstacles to economic growth. But Republicans also expressed views that reflected resentment, xenophobia and remarkable political and economic naivete. The Republican Party has become a home the orthodoxy of the evangelical far right. These angry groups will not compromise readily on certain polarizing issues.
The process of introspection is likely not only to reveal party divisions over domestic issues such as immigration and taxes, but in foreign policy as well. During the 2012 campaign, it was often difficult to discern where Republicans stood on foreign policy. Romney himself often had contradictory viewpoints, reflecting the national-security advice he received both from neoconservatives and more liberal-minded realists. Romney sounded tough when discussing Russia and China but as the campaign wore on, he increasingly sounded indistinguishable from Obama. It was difficult to know how Republicans differed from Democrats.
But the coming internal Republican disagreements are not likely to pit realists against neocons so much as it will pit both groups against the Tea Party. While neocons and realists may hold differing views on how and where the U.S. should deploy its power, they generally agree that America should maintain its superpower status, requiring the investment to ensure that status while the Tea Party believes that defense should be subject to the same cuts as the welfare state. This is another major schism that will not easily be negotiated.
In 2008, Barack Obama became the first president who lost the white vote by double digits. In 2012, Hispanics were for the first time a double-digit percentage of the turnout for the Democrats. According to conservative columnist George F. Will, “Republicans have four years to figure out how to leaven their contracting base with millions more members of America’s largest and fastest-growing minority.”
But Krauthammer believes that the solution to Romney’s failure “is not retreat, not aping the Democrats’ patchwork pandering. It is to make the case for restrained, rationalized and reformed government in stark contradistinction to Obama’s increasingly unsustainable big-spending, big-government paternalism.” Republicans have yet to mount a convincing argument making this case.
What is most clear is that, on demographics as on many other issues, Republicans have an enormous amount of internal arguing in their futures. As they seek to bring coherence to a party with a wide disparity of viewpoints many Republicans will be asking whether this is even possible before Obama’s term expires.