Sensible Republicans seeking to renew the viability of a conservative party that seems out of touch after a stinging defeat at the polls are being denounced as 'heretics.' Robert Shrum on why the party might never find its way back.
(Left to right) Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) listens to President Barack Obama speak before a budget meeting at the White House on November 16, 2012. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks with the media on November 17, 2012 in Altoona, Iowa. (Toby Jorrin, AFP / Getty Images ; Steve Pope / Getty Images)
So here is the Republican Party reinventing itself. The GOP majority in the Ohio legislature rushes to defund Planned Parenthood in its post-election session. The orange-tinted speaker of the House proposes to undo Obamacare through "oversight" in the name of "solving our debt and restoring prosperity." Never mind that health-care reform doesn't raise the deficit but reduces it. Or that "a new low," 33 percent of Americans, the anti-Obama bitter-enders, still favor repealing the law (PDF). And a rising star in the GOP future, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, offers a dim view out of the pre-Darwinian past that maybe the Earth was created in seven days--and that since "theologians" disagree, we should teach "multiple theories."
This doesn't sound like rethinking, or thinking at all, but like the reflex and revanchism of a party that doesn't comprehend or simply can't respond to the dimensions of its 2012 defeat. There's not just the delicious irony that maladroit Mitt Romney, the 47 percent man, will end up with 47 percent of the vote. Outside the South, President Obama defeated his opponent 55 to 45 percent, winning a landslide there as well as in the Electoral College. The bottom line: Romney got elected president of the old confederacy.
The aggrieved and deluded suggest secession--a question that was definitively settled four score and seven years ago. The fantasist who founded UnSkewedPolls.com conjures up a new website, BarackOFraudo.com, "proving" that the president stole Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida. Sensible Republicans--perhaps even Boehner, who has to fear the Tea Party and a coup from Eric Cantor, his House majority leader--know this is self-defeating nonsense. So do smart GOP strategists, who for speaking truth to the loss of power were promptly denounced by the grand inquisitor Rush Limbaugh as heretics who want "to get rid of conservatism."
That's not what they're saying, of course. They're insisting that something must be done to renew the viability of a conservative party that seems out of touch, out of ideas, and without much hope for victory short of economic calamity under the Democrats. But beyond the ritual lashing of Romney, who fled the national stage with ugly recriminations about the "old playbook" of "gifts" that bribed voters, the reactions from Rubio to Rush point toward slapping a new façade on a fundamentally unchanged, increasingly self-marginalizing GOP.
One of Limbaugh's targets, Steve Schmidt, a veteran of Bush 2004, who managed Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2006 reelection and John McCain's 2008 campaign, was at NYU's post-election conference at Villa La Pietra in Florence. The Republicans and Democrats there, both analysts and leading actors in the Obama and Romney efforts, heard senior Romney adviser Kevin Madden, a convinced conservative, regret that his candidate had been pushed so far to the right during the primary season. Alex Castellanos, who worked for Romney four years ago, called for a "bottom up" conservatism relevant to middle-class voters, one that offered them clear and persuasive benefits. (He didn't say "gifts." He was focused on opportunity.)
Schmidt was blunt. The GOP had to abandon the ceaseless pursuit of the last white guy in Mississippi at the expense of alienating the mainstream. He argued a case in point: Republicans should be "a pro-life party," but not "the anti-contraception" party, which is how Romney sometimes came across as he felt forced to match the über-purist Rick Santorum in the primaries. Castellanos mentioned that since Republicans believe in states' rights, the answer on abortion might be to reverse Roe v. Wade but then leave the decision on the issue to each state.
That wouldn't bring over those who care deeply about reproductive rights. And it would incite fierce resistance from those who believe life begins at fertilization. But at least such moves would provide the substance and not just the slogans of a party repositioning from the edge.
Obama pollster Joel Benenson responded that such shifts may require two or three more cycles of presidential loss. It took the Democrats that long in the wilderness in the 1970s and 1980s, when only one Democrat won the White House for only one term, and then only in reaction to the Watergate scandal. Democratic consultant Steve McMahon amplified the point: until Bill Clinton, Democrats kept hoping or clinging to the certainty that they were right and that all they had to do was find the right candidate.
Source: The Daily Beast | Robert Shrum