Diagnosing the Republican Party
|We've focused recently on articles devoted to the woes of the American Left and the Democratic Party. Not that we have totally neglected issues troubling conservatives, as in “When Conservatives Aren't”. Still, the GOP deserves some additional attention. Republicans are facing some tough problems, beyond the current stumbling on issues such as the Dubai ports deal. Blaming the press for it's bias and slanted coverage does not get it. |
Of course the media is biased. Five times more national outlet journalists identify themselves as liberal, 34 percent, than conservative, a mere 7 percent according to a Pew Research Center survey. We should expect to be fired upon by liberal media guns at every opportunity, but the Administration in recent months seems to be primarily in the business of passing them ammunition. The string of bad news cycles is not, however, the major concern we should be focusing on.
Conservatives should be minding the store and doing some critical self-examination. There are two fundamental areas we should be looking at. The first is recognizing the divisions within the Republican Party and how they can best be resolved. The second is a critique of the current conservative agenda and how we need to be more effective in pursuing it, in both the Executive and Legislative arena. The balance of this article will address the first concern, and we will follow up with a second on the agenda issues.
The party has a number of identifiable constituencies:
Traditional Republicans - Mainly attracted by the philosophy of pro-business, low regulation, small government, and low taxes. These are a combination of the “Main Street” small business and corporate business communities.
Social Conservatives – The “religious right”, motivated by values issues and opposition to incursions of liberal secularism and left wing social agendas.
Blue Collar Conservatives - Middle class and lower middle class individuals concerned with bread and butter issues. They are strongly patriotic, are concerned about national security, and are more likely to include blacks and Hispanics than the other groups. Unlike their economically similar counterparts in the Democratic camp, they believe that self-sufficiency, not government programs are the key for them to succeed. They just want government to look out for them on issues like the environment, international trade, tax fairness, health care, retirement benefits, illegal immigration, and education.
Ideological Conservatives – Intellectually driven on the role of government, constitutional issues, governmental intrusiveness, opposition to socialist thinking and programs, and faithfulness to founding principles.
There are crossovers and commonalities between these groups, and you could re-draw the categories and descriptions. But it comes close enough to the mark to serve it's purpose. The point is that there are distinct differences within the party. If Republicans are to be successful in the future, it is important to do a good job of representing the largest concerns of each of them.
Just as important is the issue of pulling in more independents and moderates who do not identify as Republican, but do swing elections. In recent elections, these voters have swung more toward Republican candidates, on the basis of support of anti-terrorism, national security, and a general sympathy with traditional values. The two largest types within this group are the affluent suburban moderates and the economically disadvantaged who in general don't believe government or either party has done a decent job of representing them.
In broad strokes, here are areas where the Republican party can make up ground in appealing to existing commonalities and adjusting to solidify weak points:
National Security – This is an easy winner for Republicans in every one of these groups, despite temporary gaffs such as the ports issue and trouble in Iraq. The problems with the Homeland Security Administration in dealing with Katrina, however, hurt public confidence in it's ability to deal with crisis. That agency needs to be cleaned up quickly.
Traditional Values – For the most part this is more a unifier than divisive, with broad appeal. The key may be to represent a party that fights against liberal legislative and judicial attempts to enforce left wing values on all Americans, than to support imposing conservative values on everyone. Stridency and excess disaffects moderates.
Economics – The Republicans are too often vulnerable to charges of favoring big business at the expense of middle and lower class citizens. We need to pursue a more populist appeal on job creation, wages, middle and lower middle income tax reduction, retirement issues, and reasonable regulation of business for consumer protection.
Fiscal Policy – This should be a strength, but it has become a liability. Relatively short term issues such as Katrina and Iraq have helped to push spending out of control, but those are not the primary problem. The tough issues are of course the long term issues of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. Try convincing voters that Social Security tax money they have paid their entire life should not have been enough to take care of them in retirement.
Illegal Immigration – The failure of meaningful border security and controlling illegal immigration is a problem that needs to become a top priority. That means pushing traditional Republicans on the issue, who have allowed the situation to become intolerable, believing the cheap and available labor outweighed other costs and concerns. Talk of guest worker programs and the like is seen as more pablum until real change happens on the border.
Integrity and Public Trust – The image of the party has been damaged by the Abramhoff scandal and a perception of influence peddling in general, and pork barrel spending on steroids.
Environment – Republicans can become known for more than wilderness drilling fights. We could show the way to realistic proactive environmental policy. We are losing on this issue, and a lot of Americans besides the eco-extremists care about the environment.
Health Care – Better solutions for millions of working people without health insurance coverage needs to be addressed.
Establishing smart, bold, and forward thinking proposals on these key issues can result in Republicans energizing the base, strengthening commitments of all conservative constituencies, and bringing in millions of new moderate and independent voters. If Republicans fail to take the lead, grow complacent, and allow Democrats to portray the party as the plaything of the economic elite, 2006 and 2008 could mean major erosions in support at the polls.