With the disappointing results of 2012 now a month past, Republicans continue to debate the future of their party. You learn a lot more in defeat than victory, and after this year the GOP has a lot to learn. Debate and discussion about the future are good and can only lead to a stronger party effort – if we learn the right lessons.
One much-discussed approach is totally counterproductive. A few conservatives continue to pursue unfettered purity in their candidates. They blame defeat on the GOP’s “moderation” and contend that Mitt Romney was an insufficiently conservative alternative. The reasoning is that “millions” of conservatives stayed home on Election Day. If the prospect of President Obama’s reelection couldn’t bring these “millions” out to vote, one wonders what would. I remember people telling me with a straight face that Ronald Reagan wasn’t conservative enough when he was running for president. Pursuing everyone on the farthest end of the political spectrum is futile and only results in losing more independent voters. It is significant that despite overall disappointing results, the GOP won independent voters this time.
On the other side are some, mostly non-Republicans, who claim that the GOP’s social conservative positions are “turning off” moderate voters and suggest Republicans abandon traditional value voters. The problem here is that the socially liberal, economically conservative Republicans barely exist in reality. The most prominent proponent of this approach, Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, was the only incumbent senator to lose his race last month. Social conservatives are a key part of the Republican coalition and among our most loyal supporters. It would be foolish in the extreme to walk away from such an important part of the GOP base .
The problem is not that social conservatives are an important part of the GOP, but rather that they are not enough alone to form a voting majority in the new America. Nor apparently are there enough social conservatives and economic conservatives to stitch together 270 electoral votes. The GOP cannot become a majority by reading people out of our party. We become a majority by adding new converts.