After the debacle of the 2012 Presidential election, The Republican National Committee undertook to assess the party’s condition and chart a way forward. The attempt took the form of a “Growth and Opportunity Project,” (handy acronym GOP), which produced a 97 page Report in March. The Report was quickly dubbed “The Republican Autopsy.” The RNC may echo Mark Twain in claiming that reports of its death are exaggerated, but the Report presents convincing evidence that without strong medicine the present condition of the party might indeed be terminal.
The Report is candid, indeed blunt, in its diagnosis. It begins by noting that Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, and that states where Republican presidential candidates used to win are increasingly voting Democratic: New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire and Florida. Turning to the Party’s image, the Report summed it up neatly:
“Public perception of the Party is at record lows. Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country. When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us.
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“The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”
Although the Report did not expressly invoke the term Oozlum, it came fairly close in a pointed reference to “driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac.”
When it came to prescribing remedies, however, the Report made less compelling reading. Much of the Report deals with the nuts and bolts of Party organization and campaigning, and while it may well be useful in those areas, it does not really grapple with the key issues that have defined the Party in the mind of the public. Thus, the Report is laudable in emphasizing the need to reach out to younger voters, women and ethnic minorities but, with one notable exception, it suggests nothing in the way of policies that might be attractive to those groups.
That one exception is an explicit and controversial call for “comprehensive immigration reform,” a term that is universally understood to include a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. The importance and boldness of this endorsement is underscored by the blandness of the surrounding terrain. The Report explains that it has not been written by a “policy committee” and, apart from immigration, policy issues are referred to only in glancing terms.
With respect to social issues, it urged inclusiveness (in words that might well be taken as referring to some RINOs):
“When it comes to social issues, the Party must in fact and deed be inclusive and welcoming. If we are not, we will limit our ability to attract young people and others, including many women, who agree with us on some but not all issues.”
Unless it is somehow implicit in the above reference to “many women,” abortion was not referred to, but gay rights were:
“For the GOP to appeal to younger voters, we do not have to agree on every issue, but we do need to make sure young people do not see the Party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view. Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.”
(Doubtless it would be unkind to suggest that urging the Party not to appear “totally intolerant” of alternative points of view could be taken to imply that it’s OK to appear only “somewhat intolerant.”)
On economic matters, the Report expresses rhetorical sympathy for the less affluent:
“The Republican Party must be the champion of those who seek to climb the economic ladder of life. Low-income Americans are hardworking people who want to become hard-working middle-income Americans. Middle-income Americans want to become upper-middle-income, and so on. We need to help everyone make it in America.”
But just how we are “to help everyone make it in America” remains cloaked in mystery.
The Report even takes a populist shot at the (presumably) undeserving wealthy:
“We have to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare. We should speak out when a company liquidates itself and its executives receive bonuses but rank-and-file workers are left unemployed. We should speak out when CEOs receive tens of millions of dollars in retirement packages but middle-class workers have not had a meaningful raise in years.”
Interesting rhetoric, although the image of the party as a collective whistle-blower on corporate malfeasance tends to boggle the imagination, and the Report does not indicate what corporate welfare it has in mind. And “speaking out” against excessive corporate compensation is unlikely to happen and even less likely to have an effect if it did.
A host of other issues were unmentioned even by indirection: entitlement reform, education, funding of infrastructure, climate change, gun control. To be fair, it was not the job of the Report to come up with an interim or proposed platform, but it might have been helpful at least to indicate that these are issues which could benefit greatly from constructive Republican proposals. On the positive side, at least the tone of the Report was a refreshing improvement from what appears most often from Capitol Hill. By the same token, the Report drew predictable fire from the more rightward precincts of the Republican Party. The position on immigration, and the softer tone on social issues were dismissed as a product of Republican “elites” and the Republican “establishment” at the expense of the “base.” It may amuse RINOs to find that, by those lights, we have suddenly become a part of the Republican establishment.
If the Republican Autopsy was the product of the Party’s “elites” and “establishment” they cannot have been reassured in the months following the its publication. Very little of a positive nature has occurred and two negative development have dominated the news: the comprehensive immigration reform urged by the Report now appears buried in the House, while Senator Cruz and his enablers in both houses are threatening to shut down the government in a kamikaze attempt to defund Obamacare. Needless to say, political onlookers have not hesitated to offer their own autopsies. An August 15 report in Politico was representative:
“It is almost impossible to find an establishment Republican in town who’s not downright morose about the 2013 that has been and is about to be. Most dance around it in public, but they see this year as a disaster in the making, even if most elected Republicans don’t know it or admit it.
Several influential Republicans told us the party is actually in a worse place than it was Nov. 7, the day after the disastrous election. This is their case:
• The party is hurting itself even more with the very voters they need to start winning back: Hispanics, blacks, gays, women and swing voters of all stripes.
• The few Republicans who stood up and tried to move the party ahead were swatted into submission: Speaker John Boehner on fiscal matters and Sen. Marco Rubio on immigration are the poster boys for this.
• Republicans are all flirting with a fall that could see influential party voices threatening to default on the debt or shut down the government — and therefore ending all hopes of proving they are not insane when it comes to governance.”
These Republicans came into the year exceptionally hopeful the party would finally wise up and put immigration and irresponsible rhetoric and governing behind them. Instead, Republicans dug a deeper hole. This probably doesn’t matter for 2014, because off-year elections are notoriously low-turnout affairs where older whites show up in disproportionate numbers. But elite Republican strategists and donors tell us they are increasingly worried the past nine months make 2016 look very bleak — unless elected GOP officials in Washington change course, and fast.”
To be sure, it is still may not be too late; even a disaster in 2016 might not be fatal. If the Democratic Party could survive George McGovern, surely the Republican Party can outlast and survive its Oozlums. But in the meantime, as the Party is reduced to a diminishing flock of angry white cranks, the country will be deprived of a viable alternative to the Democrats, and their excesses will go unchecked. That is a result that RINOs have been created to avert.
An editorial in today’s New York Times echoed reports that Republicans in Congress may shift their attempt to defund Obamacare to the vote on raising the debt limit. But a refusal to raise the debt limit, resulting in actual or imminent defaults by the government, would be even more harmful to the country and the Party than a shutdown. The Times concluded with a doleful prediction that “When Congress returns from recess in September, moderate Republicans who care about their party’s reputation may be waging a losing battle.” Clearly, we have our work cut out for us to confound that assessment.