In 1972 Senator George McGovern (who only passed away last month, God rest him), a decorated World War II bomber pilot, went down to a crushing and humiliating 49 state defeat to Richard Nixon. McGovern’s defeat became legendary political shorthand for what was wrong with the Democratic party, which had become insular and obsessed with the various liberal factions that dominated it. The party went on to just barely win the following election mainly by having its opponents self destruct during the Watergate scandal, and it was not until the Democratic Party returned to the centre in 1992 that the party retook the White House. Even then, it was not until 2008 that a modern Democratic candidate for president actually won over 50% of the vote, last time being LBJ in 1964. In short, the Democratic party had wandered too far from the centre.
But this is outrageous, say Republicans. Barack Obama a centrist? Nonsense! And that’s my point. Obama-Biden built an ethnically and socially diverse coalition, stretching from businesspeople to union members, from Christians to secular gay liberals, and when conservatives look at that list and announce that it is a collection of radical causes, they’re wrong. That coalition won 50.8% of the votes cast. The coalition is the American people.
Of course, there are some on the liberal side who are saying that the Republicans will never win an election again. This is nonsense. Mitt Romney won 48% of the vote, more than Bill Clinton won in 1992 and by no means a humiliating result. He nearly won. If Moderate Mitt had shown up from day one, and had not pandered to the far right, could he have won? Very possibly. But that Mitt Romney could never have won the nomination in the first place, and so could not have contested the unlosable election of 2012 with unemployment at 7.8%. That Mitt was not allowed show up, in the same way that John McCain, the maverick independent, was not allowed show up in 2008 either.
Instead, the GOP has created an infernal election-losing machine actually designed to scare away moderate voters. Look at Indiana, where six term GOP senator Richard Lugar, a measured conservative, was ousted by GOP voters and replaced with a candidate who wanted to talk about rape in a way that made moderate voters queasy. Look at tomorrow’s John McCain, Chris Christie, and watch as he’s made take positions in direct opposition to his current stances, such as on abortion where he’s a moderate pro-lifer, or gun control where he opposes the right to carry and conceal guns in public.
As if that isn’t enough, watch and see what happens with immigration. The Obama administration will almost certainly push a new version of the DREAM Act, which will act as the perfect pincher movement on the GOP. The Tea Party will be ready to brand anyone who considers compromise a traitor, and use it in the 2016 primaries. On the other hand, the smarter elements in the GOP like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush will recognise that if the party doesn’t move on immigration, it may, as it did in California, solidify Nevada, New Mexico and Florida in the blue column, and perhaps even put Arizona and long shot Texas into play.
So what’s the GOP to do? Firstly, don’t panic. The party lost by 2% nationally. This isn’t 1964, even if it still would have lost if it had won the popular vote nationally but in the wrong states. America remains a conservative centre-right country and socially conservative, religious and business minded Hispanic voters are still open to being convinced. But the party has to recognise that by neutralising its shrinking but disproportionately influential Old White Angry Guy wing. Perhaps by opening up the primary process more to independent and maybe even Democratic voters? Such a move would, for example, automatically skew the Democratic primaries to the unrepresentative left.
Secondly, the GOP needs to get over its weird hang-ups about sex and homosexuality. There are plenty of moderate voters out there who are uncomfortable about abortion, and would certainly like to see less of it. But getting wild eyed and judgemental about it (and contraception) is just embarrassing them. It’s the same with gay marriage: It seems to surprise Republicans that not every person who supports gay marriage is a New Yorker-reading liberal. Many aren’t even that comfortable with homosexuality, but just believe in minding their own business.
The GOP needs to get back to its small government/mind your own business roots.
Thirdly, the party has to get over its insurgent attitude towards the administration, as indeed does the Democratic Party towards Republicans. Both moderate conservative and liberal voters are fed up with the paralysis, and the first party to talk seriously about compromise has the potential to seize the high ground. Four years of blocking the administration makes Congress just as ineffectual as it does the White House, and feeding into the “illegitimate mandate” rubbish of some on the right is just plain loopy. Someone has got to start governing again, and Republicans have got to stop assuming that Fox News and The Washington Times is the world. It’s not treason to see what the other guy is saying, and occasionally agree with him. Ideological straitjackets, whether against Arlen Specter or Joe Lieberman are just plain nuts.
In short, many Americans are looking for a return to the days when your party lost and it was good sport, as opposed to an alien occupation. It’s time the GOP played its part.