Last Tuesday night was tough to swallow for conservatives across America. A lost presidential election, coupled with down-ballot down results, can only be looked at as a catastrophe for the Republican side which is now looking for anything redeeming to take out of Tuesday. Election night also proved that the old Moral Majority which propelled men like Reagan and both Bushes into the White House has been tapped out, and is even in retreat across the country, giving way to an electorate that is more diverse, younger, and above all, less socially dogmatic. Rather than run from the new social landscape, or complain about the social “depravity” of the country, the Republican Party should find ways to work with the new social order while still retaining tried and true conservative principles.
The exit polls tell the story. Mitt Romney lost the Hispanic vote by nearly 50 points to Obama, and was trounced in the 18-29 demographic by equal margins to 2008. This is a recipe for disaster, especially when the Hispanic vote continues to grow at its current rate. Capturing just the white vote is not enough anymore; we have to become a bigger tent party that is more inclusive and responsive to the concerns of minority groups. For Hispanic support, this should mean that Republicans should take the lead on immigration reform. Since the Democrats only talk about immigration reform, Republicans can actually take the lead on implementing the policy, which has been coveted by many pro-business groups that want more people to come work in America. If House Republicans take the lead on crafting a pro-business, pro-legal immigration platform that makes it easier to come here legally and incorporate some amnesty for those brought here illegally not on their own free will (i.e. their parents made them come), it could serve as a meaningful gesture to the Hispanic community, as well as a means to force the Democrats’ hand on the issue.
Take the McCain-Kennedy bill of 2006, which was the last serious attempt at immigration reform on the federal level. It was praised by President Bush, mainstream Republicans, and mainstream Democrats, but was scuttled by a combination of nativists and union leaders who didn’t want guest workers “stealing” jobs from Americans. As a result, it failed, and the perception that the Republican Party was a nativist party struck more at the Hispanics than the nativist elements of the Democratic Party. You can blame media spin or anti-Republican attack ads, but the fact that this was easy for the left to do should be very troubling. Republicans should revisit that bill, make a few adjustments to streamline visa requirements and guest worker policies, and tone down the rhetoric about having a big huge wall on the US-Mexico border that costs money and does very little. It would make us proactive on immigration, and it pressures Harry Reid to call a vote on it in the Senate. As long as Republicans pursue it in both chambers and take the lead on the issue, it will not only help solve a serious problem America faces, but also dramatically improve our relations with Hispanics.
Another way to rebuild the coalition: Soften up the social dogma. The GOP has become the “mean party” recently because of hard line social attitudes on things like gay issues. Last week, three states: Maine, Maryland, and Washington, passed gay marriage referendums by popular vote. It is clear that popular attitudes on the issue have changed greatly since 2004, and the GOP has to recognize this. It doesn’t mean religious officials have to marry gay couples if it goes against their religious practices, because that is a violation of separation of church and state. Furthermore, pending the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, there is a case to be made for the states determining the conditions of civil marriage on their level. If the federal government doesn’t have a constitutional right to rule on marriage, it should be determined by the states in the manner they see fit, which promotes the GOP’s small government philosophy on an issue Americans care more about with each election cycle.
I’m not saying this is easy to do, but many of the GOP’s mistakes lie in tact and tone; and its fate hangs in the balance.