Yes, the Republican Party is changing

“We have to stop divorcing ourselves from American culture,” says Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee. (Source: RNC)

The last couple of weeks brought another cycle of painful news stories for conservatives and for the Republican Party.

The CPAC conference featured an often woeful cast of eccentric, angry right-wing voices.

Sarah Palin, a former governor and vice presidential contender reduced to joking about her “rack”?  Yikes.

Meanwhile, Republican National Convention Chairman Reince Priebus was releasing a blistering report on his party’s image. (Corrected spelling of Reince Priebus’s name.)

The GOP brand for many voters is “scary,’ ‘narrow minded,’ and ‘out of touch’ and that we were a Party of ‘stuffy old men” according to an internal study released last week.

An internal study by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor found similarly that Republicans desperately need to move beyond a laser-beam focus on Federal deficits and the size of government.

It’s a painful spot indeed.

American voters are increasingly impatient with the GOP’s Christian traditionalism, with its white-leaning ethnic message, its rural anti-urban sensibility, and the sometimes ugly rhetoric about women, gays and lesbians, and undocumented immigrants.

The apparent lean toward the interests of big business and corporation also threatens to alienate more and more voters.

The results of this political agenda have been predictably painful.

Republicans have won the popular vote in exactly one presidential race since 1988.  They held control of the House last year not by winning the majority of votes (they didn’t) but through aggressive gerrymandering.

That’s a deep hole.  Deeper than many conservatives like to acknowledge.  And there’s been a lot of chatter — yes, including from me on this blog — about the very real difficulties and hurdles complicating fundamental change within the GOP.

Even now, many conservative leaders are claiming that they can massage the packaging and the media approach of their message, without changing fundamental policy ideas.

That argument faces increasing fire, from conservative pundits and some Republican leaders.

Behind the scenes a fundamental shift on key issues is already underway.  “Principles” are being massaged or scrapped altogether.  Here are four major, tectonic changes I think we’ll see by 2014 and even more dramatically by 2016.

1.  Capitulation on gay marriage.  Rob Portman’s pivot in Ohio was huge.  The libertarian view that fussiness about same-sex marriage is a form of big government bigotry is gaining ground fast among Republicans, especially among younger conservatives.  GOP leaders will be working hard to take this issue off the table by 2016.

2.  A fix will be found for illegal immigration.  It won’t be pretty.  It won’t make anyone happy.  But the GOP will partner with Democrats to achieve some kind of accord for the nation’s millions of undocumented workers.   And yes, it will include a path to citizenship and an end to chatter about “self-deportation” and electric fences.

3.  Republicans will get much, much better on race.  And not just because a Hispanic, Marco Rubio, will be a standard bearer.  According to Priebus, the GOP is hiring a new team of black and Hispanic political operatives whose primary task is bringing conservatives and minorities together at the policy table.  This won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

4.  The kooks will be marginalized.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be eccentrics and radicals within the GOP or on your AM dial or on Fox News.  But if you want to talk about legitimate rape, or rape babies being a blessing from God, or diseased Hispanic immigrants, or Barack Obama’s birth certificate, or the sinfulness of contraception, expect some serious push-back from your own side of the aisle.  Karl Rove’s effort to shape primary races is only the first salvo in this fight.

I make these predictions confidently because the alternatives are more or less inconceivable.  Even the National Republican Committee has been describing their internal report as an “autopsy.”

They know that without (a lot) more support from Hispanics and women, their political brand will continue to go the way of the Whigs and the Tea Party.

Yes, House members in highly conservative districts will push back against many of these changes.  So too will talk radio hosts and bloggers.  And a lot of the change will come wrapped in fuzzy language and spin.

And Republican leaders will likely draw some lines in the sand that won’t be crossed.  I’m guessing abortion is off the table.  The conviction that government is more of a burden than an aid to average Americans will remain.

But the GOP writ large is made up of very smart, very ambitious people, who very much want to win big elections. They don’t want to preside over the marginalization of one of America’s most beloved political institutions, the Party of Lincoln.

That will mean accepting once and for all that the “real” America is the America we’ve got, not the America that existed twenty or forty or sixty years ago.

The party’s top figures — Priebus, Rubio, Rand Paul, Karl Rove, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush — have already begun this reinvention.  The process will be noisy and messy, but it’s also inevitable.

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48 Comments on “Yes, the Republican Party is changing”

  1. Mike Ludovici says:

    Maybe there is a chance we won’t feel like this country is being hijacked be right-wingers in the future.

  2. The Original Larry says:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/02/17/redistricting-didnt-win-republicans-the-house/

    Interesting article that dismisses the fiction that the Republicans somehow “stole” the House of Representatives. Repeating something over and over does not make it true.

  3. Paul says:

    Some of the issues that the GOP has wasted their time opposing are just ridiculous. There is no reason to oppose things like gay civil marriage (even the president has mad this same calculation). It makes no difference to anyone but the people getting married, and it is such a small portion of the population why bother with a fight that just makes you look like a jerk. Focus on what people really care about.

  4. Paul says:

    made not mad.

  5. Brian Mann says:

    Original Larry –

    The substance of my argument is echoed in the first paragraph of this Washington Post blog post.

    “Democrats won a majority of the House vote—roughly 51%—while falling a full 17 seats short of a majority.”

    So the reality remains for Republicans: Even in the House which they control, their candidates are attracting fewer votes than Democratic candidates.

    Set aside the debate over gerrymandering. The fact remains that this kind of outcome isn’t what any political party wants to see.

    If it were an isolated bit of information, it wouldn’t seem as significant. But as part of a wider political struggle for the GOP, it’s noteworthy.

    –Brian, NCPR

  6. TomL says:

    Reince (not Rance) Priebus has his work cut out for him. This kind of garbage won’t help the Republican Party a bit: http://www.salon.com/2013/03/18/have_republicans_read_their_new_rebranding_report/singleton/

  7. Kathy says:

    The major fault of the Republican Party is their fear of defying the god of political correctness. There has been so much compromise in order to keep peace it is embarrassing.

    The one quality missing in the party is this: courage.

    If the Republicans are accused of Christian traditionalism, it is a direct hit on God, principles, and values – all not to be ashamed of. Yet, the party has brought this upon themselves by compromising out of fear.

    We may look like a motley crew, but sometimes it gets worse before it gets better. Learning from mistakes makes you stronger. I am pleased to see some courageous voices coming from failure and defeat. There is no reason for fear when you are standing on truth.

  8. TomL says:

    Kathy, the House Majority (Republican) Leader is not Christian – traditional or otherwise. He is not alone in the Republican Party. The Republican Party, thankfully, is not a Christian fundamentalist party, though many fundamentalists are Republican (others adhere to no party, and I bet some are Democrat).

  9. myown says:

    The evidence of recent Republican congressional gerrymandering is overwhelming. The only debate is over measuring its impact on election results.

    Here is an article from Bloomberg news:
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-03-18/republicans-foil-what-most-u-s-wants-with-gerrymandering.html

    However, I am not any more in favor of gerrymandering by Democrats. Our Democracy requires fair elections and representation. Even the authors of the Washington Post article believe we need to respond to pervasive gerrymandering by, “Reforming redistricting by handing responsibility to independent commissions might produce more even-handed results. In fact, the evidence from California suggests the state’s new redistricting commission produced a fair plan that met the mandate of the law. We’d support using these commissions in more states.”

  10. JDM says:

    Priebus, Rubio, Rand Paul, Karl Rove, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush.

    Well, now. There’s a unique blend of what’s wrong with the GOP and what’s up-and-coming.

    There are two parties in this country.

    Brian’s perspective is on what’s wrong with the one he doesn’t adhere to.

    There is plenty wrong with Dems, as well.

    The government is too big, the debt is too big, robbing from our grandchildren to fund our freebies, gay marriage, environmentalists, abortion, and much much more.

    Let’s have this debate.

    I agree the GOP needs to change. It needs to get rid of anything that looks like a Democrat.

    Karl Rove can go. Chris Christie can go. Boehner and Cantor can go, too, for that matter.

    You Dems can have the compromisers.

    Let them mess with your party for awhile.

  11. Paul says:

    Even if they were “christian fundamentalists” what do they care about allowing something like gay civil marriage. In the church’s view those folks are not married anyway? Sometimes I don’t even think they understand their own religion. And any decent christian would not throw some poor Mexican back over the fence if they are really a christian.

    If they really want their religion to dictate some of their politics they sure don’t act like it.

  12. Brian, you mention Priebus, Rubio, Rand Paul, Rove, Christie and Jeb Bush. What about Rep. Chris Gibson and others like him in the GOP — military-style, small-town pragmatists who regularly cross party lines? I wonder if they’ll lead the party, if they’ll follow it or if they’ll continue to do what they do in their own way, mostly below the national radar.

  13. Mike Ludovici says:

    Brian, JDM’s post reinforces your point.

  14. Ken Hall says:

    The concept of straw man issues to keep the masses at each others throats is perpetrated by those who control 96% of the total wealth in the U.S., by artificially concocting ridiculous points of contention between them, is not accidental. Why own State and Federal congress men/women, purportedly representatives of the people, if they cannot coerce them into passing laws that economically enhance the rate at which those of the obscenely wealthy crowd continue to siphon the fruits of the workers labors into their coffers? Ergo the left right impasse.

  15. TomL says:

    Here is a good discussion of the emerging debate within the Republican Party:
    http://www.buzzfeed.com/mckaycoppins/religious-right-could-be-left-behind-by-new-republican-plan

    It does look like long-predicted cracks in the Republican Party coalition may be getting larger. It is interesting that Karl Rove used the religious right to gin up votes for GW Bush, for example, by getting anti-marriage equality referendums on the ballot in swing states like Ohio to get out the conservative vote. Now Karl Rove is starting to emerge as an enemy of the religious right.

  16. Mervel says:

    I just think it comes down to social issues versus the economic ones. There is still a political market for less government interference in our lives, which would include our economic lives.

    The issue is why is the party doing this? I mean just saving as Brain does; “they don’t want to preside over the marginalization of one of America’s most beloved political institutions, the Party of Lincoln.” is not a good enough reason. Do they believe and does the country believe in the core message of the Party? If the core message is just some muddled version of what the Democrats are saying than yes the Party of Lincoln needs to die.

    But there is much to be gained from not meddling in social issues, which would apply to the Democrats as well as the Republicans, stay out of my bedroom; also means keep your hands of the gun in my bedroom just as much as who I am sleeping with.

  17. Brian Mann says:

    Peter –

    I think Chris Gibson is a pretty interesting guy in the context of this conversation. I think one test of the change within the GOP will be whether blue state pragmatists of his stripe — Chris Christie certainly falls in this camp — will take a larger role in defining the party’s policies and image.

    -Brian, NCPR

  18. Brian Mann says:

    JDM –

    The numbers are just very clear. If Republicans kick out people like Christie, Boehner, Gibson, etc. they will be a sub-regional party with decreasing influence over national policy.

    It might go that way. But I think those of you who’ve been pillorying “RINOs” with impunity for a couple of decades will face more and more pushback after 2012.

    –Brian, NCPR

  19. The Original Larry says:

    Brian, quoting the issue about to be discussed doesn’t indicate whether or not it is correct. The entire question is whether or not gerrymandering contributed to Republicans winning control of the House. Answer: not so much and certainly not as much as you would like everyone to believe. A national plurality means nothing in terms of a legislative body whose members are elected by district.

  20. Mervel says:

    I am a social conservative myself and one way that I would look for the GOP to manage these issues is not trying to implement social change through law. But I would expect them to protect my freedom of speech and religion and to guard against government intrusion into the Church itself. To me this is the direction on social issues the Party should take. We will see what happens. Frankly Republican Southerners are going to be a problem.

  21. Kathy says:

    TomL, I am painting with a broad brush.

    Brian’s article pointed out the voter’s impatience with Christian traditionalism and that is what I was speaking to.

    There were Founders who were not Christians but adhered to its principles and morality. The country was built on this and there are numerous documents and writings to prove what was in their minds.

    You can live by principles and not be Christian.

    You can live by morals and not be Christian.

    But.. if we are not guided by an acknowledgment of God governing in the affairs of men, we will keep moving the line not to be crossed which will bring devastation.

  22. Peter Hahn says:

    Larry – there is no question superior Republican partisan Gerrymandering (relative to Democrat Gerrymandering) contributed to the Republican control of the house of representatives. But other factors contributed as well.

  23. Mervel says:

    Certainly this country is unique Kathy in that we believe that our rights do not flow from a man made institution, but from our Creator, thus they can’t be abrogated by man or a man made institution either. But society is changing and I think we should consider as Christians how to reach out to a society that I frankly think is becoming lost in a secular dead end. I don’t think we can or should look to government for any of that. What I do look for my government to do is to ensure I have the freedom to spread the Gospel and worship as I please, which also means staying out of Church affairs.

    Where we will have to likely make a social stand will be when the Church itself will be attacked and confiscated, when we will be ordered for example to practice the sacraments in a particular way, the sacrament of marriage for example. These things must be protected and they are fundamental.

    But the same protections holds for other groups including Muslims, Buddhists etc.

  24. Mervel says:

    Anyway the GOP should take that track in my opinion on social issues, but just in general don’t spend so much time on them! Also tell the truth about deficits and the budget and what they mean and what they don’t mean.

  25. Peter Hahn says:

    Kathy – the issue is how much role Christian traditionalism should have in determining national policies. There are many voters who are deeply uncomfortable with all that talk about Christian values.

    For example, “But.. if we are not guided by an acknowledgment of God governing in the affairs of men, we will keep moving the line not to be crossed which will bring devastation.”

    What is that line? Gay marriage? Use of contraceptives? Abortion? Obamacare? Eating pork or beef? Mixing meat and dairy? GMO crops?

  26. tootightmike says:

    I’ve checked the history books and I’m pretty sure the creator wasn’t there in Philadelphia. Our “God-given” principles and rights were put together by a group of activists and free-thinkers. They went to great lengths to keep God out of politics, and government out of church.

  27. The fundamental problem with the Republican Party is that it seems to go out of its way to alienate anyone who isn’t a rural, white, heterosexual, Christian, Israel-apologist, male. This is a problem for them since the groups they are alienating represent significant voting blocs (women alone a majority, Latinos are increasing in population, gays are becoming more politically vocal). This doesn’t mean they have to pander to all these groups. But the mentality of giving the finger to everyone who isn’t exactly like them *in every way* is incredibly stupid on their part. Latinos, for example, should be a natural GOP constituency because of their generally very conservative attitudes on social issues.

    The other problem is that, as smug liberals learned in 2004, you don’t win elections by telling the voters how stupid they are… whether you think you’re right or not. 47% Romney (that being the percentage of voters who went for him) and many other Republicans are now the ones doing that.

  28. newt says:

    I think the comments of the Republican-leaning folks above, thoughtful and decent people that they no doubt are, underscores the essential problem facing that party. To chase the moderates who want no part of socially conservative, and/or extreme libertarian doctrines and policies, the party will have to abandon those who feel these are critical. It’s hard to see how this can work out in the party’s favor.

    Especially now that the Democrats finally have leadership that knows how to fight.

  29. Brian Mann says:

    I don’t think Republican flexibility on some of these issues will mean ‘abandoning’ anyone.

    Democrats do things all the time that liberals hate, but the vast majority of liberal voters still pull the lever fairly cheerfully for Democratic candidates.

    Barack Obama uses drones, refuses to embrace single payer healthcare, muddled about on gay marriage for years, agreed to curtail entitlements, and expanded the war in Afghanistan — all substantive things that many left-of-center voters hate.

    But he won 90% of their votes. Meanwhile, I know a lot of liberals here in the North Country who voted (with some enthusiasm) for Bill Owens, a pro-gun-rights guy who opposes gay marriage.

    –Brian, NCPR

  30. Tony Hall says:

    After election day, 2012, Republicans woke up to the fact that they were on the verge of becoming a marginal party. It’s known to all, but not sufficiently emphasized, that the Republicans deliberately hounded their moderate and liberal wings out of the party. So far as I know, the Democrats never demanded an ideological litmus test, not even in the late 60s and early 70s. No one is accused of being a Democrat In Name Only. Of course, the Republicans have been divided into Taft, Main Street, Isolationist and Wall Street, Establishment, Internationalist wings since World War II. But the war for the soul of the party became open in 1964, and has continued ever since, with varying degrees of intensity. Here in New York, the Conservative Party became the tail that wagged the dog after the Rockefeller years. What is interesting is that Republicans have always been aware of the dangers of becoming an ideological party, (cf George Gilder’s 1965 ‘The Party that Lost its Head’ or Samuel Freedman’s 1996 ‘The Inheritance’) without ever addressing the issue as a structural problem. Instead, they wait for a candidate to show up who will have an appeal at least broad enough to win by a thin margin. In my opinion, those candidates will become increasingly rare.

  31. newt says:

    Meanwhile. per Ken Hall above, the mainstream Republicans praise and protect the Wall Street and bankster oligarchs who caused our current economic woes, while the Democrats mildly criticize, but also protect them (most recent example, the Obama Admin’s failure to criminally prosecute HSBC for proven billions drug and weapon money laundering).

    Both parties are, at least, loyal to their true owners.

  32. newt says:

    Yeah, Brian, what Tony Hall said.

    It’s my belief that a lot of these folks tended to sit out elections until Rove and his bunch went out and recruited them. I may be wrong, but think I heard something about a fall-off in socially-conservative voting last time around.

    Lefties tend to be more pragmatic than righties.

  33. The Original Larry says:

    This is great! All about the Republican Party from a group of people who would rather chew off their own arms than pull the lever for a Republican candidate. This is the Achilles Heel of liberals: they are experts on everything.

  34. Tony Hall says:

    Perhaps I should have added that I am a registered Republican, and will vote for Republicans unless common sense dictates otherwise

  35. Paul says:

    “Anyway the GOP should take that track in my opinion on social issues, but just in general don’t spend so much time on them!”

    I say just stay out of those issues there are plenty of other things to deal with. And like I said they are marginal anyway. Look at abortion as an example the government can (and in my opinion should) give a woman the right to choose and the church (and anyone else) should be free to tell her that they find it immoral for her to do it. And they should be free to help her decide what she wants to do while helping her and not harassing her (the people who protest outside abortion clinics have a special place in hell set aside for them in my opinion). But it is her choice. It is called freedom something that we hold very dear. Just like I feel that we should be free to go and buy a gun without the government getting in the way. The consequences of allowing that freedom can be devastating (Sandy Hook, Columbine…). But freedom has and always will have severe costs associated with it (and as technology develops it becomes worse). It also has huge benefits as we all know.

    Now since I brought up abortion let the fireworks begin!

  36. newt says:

    Larry-
    You really should check out MSNBC for a few some time. Republicans are practically all they talk about. After all, Republicans are so much more interesting than Democrats. It’s like having the best Shakespeare history, tragedy, and comedy plots (if not language), plus a really cheesey circus clown show, all rolled into one magnificent, crazy, outlandish, play.

  37. Kathy says:

    What is that line? Gay marriage? Use of contraceptives? Abortion? Obamacare? Eating pork or beef? Mixing meat and dairy? GMO crops?

    Let me ask you.. is there a line?

  38. hermit thrush says:

    i have no doubt that the gop is going to change. it’ll have to, because the country is changing and i don’t think conservatives are going to stop it.

    but i think it’s still going to be a while before the gop changes in a big, meaningful way. it’s not going to happen by 2014 or 2016. look at what kathy and jdm are writing. they’re the gop base. they want to double down. they still need to lose a few elections, i think.

  39. Peter Hahn says:

    Kathy – there isnt a line written down somewhere.(or rather there are many)

  40. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    “Barack Obama uses drones, refuses to embrace single payer healthcare, muddled about on gay marriage for years, agreed to curtail entitlements, and expanded the war in Afghanistan — all substantive things that many left-of-center voters hate.”

    Hey! I thought this post was about making Republicans feel bad about their candidates not liberals! But the point is correct. Obama has policies that drive me crazy but not crazy enough to vote for McCain or Romney.

  41. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I think there is a major misconception about the founding of our country. The Declaration of Independence and Constitution were not documents written to protect conservative ideas about the nature of government. They were steps in a long history of limiting the role of God and Church in the affairs of men and government.

    To make this very brief; first the was the Divine Right of Kings which held that God picked Kings out to rule over the earth. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_right_of_kings

    Then in 1100 there was the Charter of Liberties in which Henry I accepted limits on his authority over the Church and some lesser nobles. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_of_Liberties

    Then there was the Magna Carta in which some nobles forced King John to accept limits on his power.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magna_Carta

    Then the Declaration of Independence which starts out:
    “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

    Notice some key phrases; human events, separate and equal station…Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle. This is an assertion of Natural Law over the Divine Right of Kings. Reason over “God’s will.”

    Finally the Constitution which starts out:
    “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    Note “We the People…do ordain…” Not God. No mention of God.

    So let’s back off of the idea that we were founded as a Christian nation. Yes they were mainly Christians but they also used “pagan” laws as templates for our Constitution. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Law_of_Peace

  42. Walker says:

    “No one is accused of being a Democrat In Name Only.”

    Er, except maybe Andrew Cuomo.

  43. newt says:

    Very nice, KHL.

    You know, there’s another Wikipedia buried in the archives of the In-Box (and from all sides of the political spectrum).

  44. mervel says:

    Hmmm many of you on the Democratic side kind of sound like Karl Rove when he talked about the new permanent Republican majority, not that long ago.

    Republicans won a streak now the Democrats have finally won a streak, I think the death of the GOP is probably to not at our doorstep.

  45. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I think the Republican Party will survive, but it is pretty sick from a John Birch infection and that takes some time to cure.

  46. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    newt, you have lost me…

  47. Pete Klein says:

    Rack? Has Sarah grown antlers?

  48. dave says:

    “This is the Achilles Heel of liberals: they are experts on everything.”

    And the Achilles heel of conservatives is that they dislike and dismiss experts on anything. Scientists… engineers… generals… people with advanced education…

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