The GOP Needs To Get Better – Not Just Change Its Message

by George Kennedy on January 28, 2013

The GOP Needs To Get Better – Not Just Change Its Message

Reince Priebus was recently re-elected Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC).  Think about that for a minute!  The question is, does anyone seriously believe he can provide the leadership that can infuse the energy, creativity, and the spirit of a hoped-for new Republican Party in sync with a changed electorate?  Not to belabor the point but, remind us again how he has projected the shrewd, vital image that appealed to 76 million of the Millennial generation, women – now half the electorate and the workforce, African Americans, and Hispanics!

The principle rap against today’s Republican Party is it is resistant to change.  That generalization is widely accepted as accurate, even among the Party faithful.  Several days ago, an ABC/WSJ poll showed a 49% negative opinion of the GOP.

Since the election – now re-election – of President Obama, a host of prominent Republican presidential candidates, Republican governors, and current and former members of the Republicans in Congress, have tried to re-brand their party.  Each is a member of a particular faction within their party.  For example, the anti-government fanatics and key deficit hawks (Paul Ryan, John Boehner, Mitt Romney, and Mitch McConnell) advance the same economic and fiscal policies soundly rejected by the voters in two presidential election cycles.

Moreover, the majority of Republican leaders in the country today refuse to re-examine their positions on issues the majority of voters deem important.  Every major poll taken since November 6 reveals Americans do not agree with the Republican Party on key issues e.g., immigration reform, gun control, climate change, abortion, tax reform, and fixing the economy.

The christian conservatives and the radical right wing of the GOP have zeroed in on the topic of abortion.  At a pro-choice rally in Washington, D.C., John Boehner, not to be outflanked by conservatives, joined their chorus pronouncing “He will make it a national priority to help make abortion a relic of the past…let that be one of our most fundamental goals this year.”  At the same anti-abortion rally, Senator Rand Paul (R.-KY) proclaimed “Our nation is adrift, adrift in a wilderness where right and wrong have become subservient to a hedonism of the moment.”  The import of his comments suggest that the average American woman in need of this legal medical procedure is guilty of acting out the inevitable result of a hedonist lifestyle.

Social conservatives feel a moral imperative to impose their brand of morality on American women and the men who love them.

Tens of millions of Americans were without healthcare before the Affordable Care Act.  Millions more are now covered but, the human cost of millions of Americans not having access to affordable health care appears to be but an abstraction to many Republicans; the issue is not real.  Several Republican governors including the recent Republican presidential nominee, suggest every American has access to health care:  the nearest emergency room.

Moreover, sitting Republican governors  and their allies in the Congress are adamant that Medicare and Social Security must be privatized to preserve them for future generations and, that the administration of Medicaid should devolve completely to individual states.  Under this scenario, the social safety net would become the personal abyss for millions of children, the elderly, the infirm, and the needy.

Optics are important.  In addition to being out of step with the electorate, a more visible sign of failure within the GOP is their unwillingness to change the sign on their leadership door:  Reince Priebus, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, et al and, of course, FOX News and Rush Limbaugh.  How is that for inspiration?

Republicans cannot accept America the way it is!  What the world is witnessing among the warring factions of the Republican Party today is a brand of leadership resistant to change; predominantly older, white and male; ideologically rigid, and torn between factions unable to coalesce around a unifying purpose.  Ronald Reagan, the master coalition-builder, was able to unify Republicans against a common enemy i.e., communists and terrorists abroad, liberals and people of color at home, notes Robert Reich.  Reagan’s coalition, albeit fragile, lies crumbled and the current GOP leadership is incapable of putting Humpty Dumpty together again.

The Republicans cannot win national elections on the merits of their policy proposals.  Their response to this outcome in more than a dozen states was to pass legislation making it more difficult to vote i.e., enacting voter ID, shortening early voting, and requiring citizens to show a birth certificate or passport to register to vote.  A post 2012 election analysis of voting behavior in the State of Florida revealed that 201,000 eligible voters did not vote because the lines were too long – courtesy of that state’s Republican governor Rick Scott.  Moreover, they gerrymandered enough Republican districts in 2010 to ensure a permanent Republican majority in several State Houses and many seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Republicans remain unabashed in their preference for vote rigging schemes.  The latest proposal by Republicans to weaken our democracy and dilute voting rights is to rig the vote by abandoning the winner-take-all approach to awarding Electoral College votes and replace it with a proportional allocation.  The purpose is to tilt voting power away from high-density urban areas (heavily Democratic, African American, Hispanic, and foreign ethnic) toward rural areas (overwhelmingly white, conservative and Republican).  The effect is to increase the likelihood that the presidential candidate (Mitt Romney) with the fewest votes overall would win a larger share of electoral votes.

Each of the schemes favored by Republicans to undermine democracy, notes Charles Blow of the New York Times, is a “brazen attempt to alter electoral outcomes and chip away at the very idea of democracy, to the benefit of Republican candidates.”

Ideas acted upon have consequences, a reality that escapes many Republicans today.  Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal told his party several days ago, “Republicans need to stop being the stupid party.”  We know that Jindal is a likely contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

It is difficult to get a simple message across to the GOP:  The voters want a viable two-party system.  They are not anti-government, rather they want a functional government that meets the needs of the majority, and that responds to their will.  The same voters fault Republicans for the bitter and partisan tone in Washington and the gridlock that paralyzes government.  They fault Republicans for waging war against the middle class, the right of women to manage their healthcare needs, and the collapse of the economy.

There are several open questions the GOP must answer to our satisfaction if we are to believe they want to build a bigger tent.   Is the Republican Party capable of transforming itself in a manner that embraces demographic change and the complex needs of a modern, 21st century society?  A society that no longer resembles America of the 1950s.  Second, is the Republican Party prepared to accept duly elected, national leadership that may be female, black, brown, or yellow?  Also, is it prepared to accept rules written by the many for the most that do not favor the few?  Will they recognize that corporations really are not people and that money does not equate with virtue?  Will they accept that compromise is not weakness or abandoning principles but, rather, is the essential element to bind and transform modern democracies and societies in transition?

A final observation.  There are two generations of Americans, many of whom (more than a million) are veterans of two of the longest wars in American history, determined to preserve, protect, and defend this country from enemies foreign and DOMESTIC.  That may include the necessity to marginalize a cohort of Republicans determined to preserve the power and privileges of a protected few.

George Kennedy

George Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kennedy was a political advisor to state and federal officials and has authored strategy pieces for Members of Congress and presidential candidates. He serves on the Advisory Board for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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