This election raises two big questions for the Republican Party – how to regroup in the short-term, and how to rebuild for 2016. The 112th Congress has been characterized by obstruction and an unusual amount of bad blood even by U.S. standards, a strategy predicated on the assumption that Barack Obama would be a one term President. This assumption was shattered as a coalition of youth, women and minority voters emphatically rejected Mitt Romney and the Republican platform.
The GOP has some soul-searching to do. In the short-term they must consider whether their obstructionist approach is likely to pay off. In the long-term they must address their demographic problem. The former is simply strategic – the latter is essential to their relevance as a political force.
Ever since Obamacare was passed the Republican line has been simple: wait until 2013. Without a majority in the Senate or a sympathetic President they had no way of making good on their promise to repeal this supposedly unpopular piece of legislation. The President would need to run on his record, and an obstructionist Congress would make sure that that record was disliked and patchy.
Did the people reject Republican obstructionism? It pains me to say it, but I doubt that it was significant in the minds of swing voters. Most people believe the President to be more powerful than he is, and the blame for failing to pass legislation is usually laid at his door. The more important question now is whether the Republicans in Congress will continue with this tactic. Expect to get some indication of their strategy from the upcoming talks on the fiscal cliff.
The GOP has a demographic problem. Any long-term strategy must take into account the fact that they got hammered by both minorities and women. Harsh anti-immigration rhetoric and regressive attitudes on gender simply do not play well with essential voter groups. If the Republicans are to have a hope of recapturing the White House, they must confront this problem.
The Republican base is old and white. A growing proportion of the electorate is young and non-white. Women vote(!). The majority of women rejected the Republican platform. The current Republican base is shrinking, and will continue to shrink. Unless they go through the painful process of updating their message to reflect 21st Century America, the GOP will become a permanent minority.
Of course, it’s too simplistic to say that if only their immigration policies were less right wing then Hispanic voters would go Republican. Women aren’t single-issue voters any more than any other voter group. But the fact of the matter is that these policies drive away enough people to swing the electoral math in favor of the Democrats
The most important task confronting the Republican leadership will be difficult and painful: they must embrace more liberal social positions without alienating their base. Never before has the GOP had such a narrow and focused philosophy. The vast majority of Republican lawmakers have signed Grover Norquist’s tax pledge. The primary system punishes those who stray off-message. The party will be split between those elements that wish for it to become more conservative still and those who wish for it to become more electable (and despite what you might have heard on RedState, these positions are incompatible).
This is the bottom line: either Republicans modernize their message or they become increasingly irrelevant to modern America. There will be no swing towards social conservatism. Roe vs. Wade will not be overturned. The groups that decide elections will not vote for a party that represses them.