Sunday, March 22, 2009

Does the GOP need a makeover?

In a post-election America where the "40-and-under bloc went overwhelmingly for President Obama," will the GOP have to reinvent its image to survive? Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. definitely thinks so, as outlined in the article "Huntsman takes aim at GOP" This up-and-coming Republican presidential contender for 2012 is an affluent Mormon-- already a hard sell for a party that has long been linked to evangelical Christianity. However, his religion may not prove to be his greatest obstacle to winning the GOP nomination, although it probably won't help. What many Republicans would object to-- indeed, are already objecting to-- is his call for a dramatic transformation of the GOP to combat "sweeping demographic and political changes that threaten to consign Republicans to a long-term minority status and confine their appeal to narrow sections of the country." While his economic ideals are still staunchly conservative, he believes that when it comes to morality and social issues, such as civil unions, abortion, and the environment, a more compromising, progressive stance is crucial.

While the majority of Republicans would find fault with his vision (according to the article, seventy percent of Utahans, his own constituents, disagree with his views) it is true that over the past twenty years or so, there has been a movement within the Republican Party towards a moderate stance. Thomas Frank has studied the emergence of this moderate faction within the GOP in Kansas. As Frank explains in What's the Matter with Kansas?, the "Mods" are often so opposed the social conservatism of the more traditional Republicans that many will go to great lengths to take power away from them-- even as far as to vote Democrat. As both Frank and this article point out, the Democratic candidate is often preferred by this "highly educated, socially moderate and affluent" group, and in the last presidential election, Obama definitively won them. With a group of Republicans defecting from their own party, it certainly seems as though something needs to change.

The fact that the Democrats have won over Republican voters should not cause the GOP to despair, because the process can easily work in reverse. The core Republican values-- smaller government, lower taxes-- have become overshadowed by their conservative social agenda. In fact, many Americans no longer differentiate between the GOP and the Dems by their views of federal power, but as the pro-life and pro-choice party, the anti-gay and pro-gay party. In today's society, a moderate stance on social issues is becoming the norm. If the GOP could just capitalize on this fact, they could win over voters who have a conservative outlook on government but have previously been scared away by an unrelenting moral platform. Based on this, I think that Huntsman might just be the one to reignite the GOP--though whether or not Republicans think so remains to be seen.

9 comments:

Neal M said...

I agree with pretty much everything Molly said, specifically with her statement that “the core Republican values-- smaller government, lower taxes-- have become overshadowed by their conservative social agenda.” The GOP does need to shift its social agenda in order to regain some of the support it lost to the Democrats. Specifically as Molly said, they need to appeal to a wider range of voters. This must be done very carefully, however, because as soon as the Republican Party shift towards a more liberal “pragmatic” stance, it’s possible that the party lines could become blurred. And then what would happen? America has always had political parties, and although they were known from the beginning as necessary evils, they have shaped our political decisions and allegiances since the ratification of the Constitution. On one hand, this possible shift toward blurred party lines could lead to immense confusion amongst voters, specifically those used to voting for a particularly party every single election. On the other hand, it may actually help voters elect candidates whose views best represent the interests of the people, instead of voting for candidates simply because they were tied to a certain Party and its goals. Who knows what would happen, but either way, the GOP needs to address this situation clearly and cautiously, in order to prevent widespread confusion over the Party’s identity.

Tanya B. said...

I definitely agree that Republicans need to acknowledge the strong emergence of a group of voters that is fiscally conservative, but socially liberal. Just from my own personal experience, I’ve found that a lot of my peers from home and school seem to fall into this ambiguous category, and often feel forced to decide which of their views is more important when it comes to elections. For many younger voters, who have yet to be faced directly with the effects of economic policy, social issues become more pressing, causing them to vote left. I think that if the GOP wants to revitalize its position and appeal to these younger voters, it needs to find a way to moderate its platform.

Katie said...

I think Molly brings up an interesting point about the Republican Party’s platform. Because younger voters were drawn overwhelmingly to the Democratic Party in the past election, I understand why Utah governor Jon Huntsman is calling for a “make-over” of the Republican Party. While the Republican Party suffered in the past election, however, I think the changes Huntsman calls for might hurt the Republican Party rather than help it. The Republican Party’s stance on social issues has proven to be a real source of strength in many elections. For instance, in “God Strategy”, Domke and Coe discuss how the Republican Party changed their platform to incorporate conservative stances on social issues like abortion and gay marriage. This change in their Party platform was a major factor in their rise to political dominance in several elections. Because of the success of this strategy in past elections, I think it might be dangerous for the Republican Party’s continued success to take a middle position on these polarizing issues.

AndiMS said...

Neal takes his comment in an interesting direction by questioning what would happen if party lines were to blur in the future. Actually, some of our founding fathers (namely George Washington)discouraged Americans from promoting political parties on the basis that they often change the focus of politics from bettering the nation to fighting for power and influence. The problem is, the longer political parties exist, the deeper their roots become; we see politicians regularly compromising on one issue in order to get the favor returned on another issue later on. It would be pretty tough for an independent candidate without any 'connections' to get a leg up in this age. So even if Republican policy on social issues does start looking more 'democratic,' I just don't think it's possible for parties to disappear, only for parties to redefine themselves. And that's exactly what Republicans will do if it looks like it will earn them the most votes in the long run. Molly's point about needing to appeal to a wider range of voters should be seriously considered, but not, as Katie suggested, to the point of losing their conservative support. The younger generations do appear to be liberalizing, but I don't think it's time for the GOP to concede its socially conservative stance quite yet. Instead, I think Republicans need to take a close look at which social issues have recently proved themselves to be losing battles and which ones can still be changed or moved forward in favor of religious/conservative values.

Vignesh N. said...

Molly brings up an interesting point in that, in our current society, the term “conservative” is traditionally thought to become more applicable toward anti-gay, anti-abortion politicians rather than the other core values of the Republican Party. The GOP was really founded on the ideas of smaller government intervention in markets, and allowing the free market to take its course. As such, many Americans fail to see the relation between these two ideologies, rather they only see the social issues that the media portray, which is unfortunate because many Americans who vote Democratic may actually believe in less government intervention. Because of this, the Republican Party is losing many voters who think elections are a matter of social issues, not government issues. Only when conservative party decides to refocus its platform on these government issues will they regain any momentum in America’s political atmosphere.

Molly G. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hannah P. said...

I really liked this blog post and agreed with practically everything Molly said, but I do agree with Neal that we have to be careful not to make the Republican Party too encompassing. The people who vote for the Republican Party do so for a reason, and it's important that we don't dismiss those people simply because we don't agree with their beliefs. However, the Republican Party should place more emphasis on their fiscal policies and perhaps less on their moral policies in order to draw more people in.

I'm particularly interested in what Tanya said, because I know that quite a few of my friends back home have the opposite problem. They are fiscally liberal and socially conservative, and they have to choose which issue to give more weight to. Not surprisingly, most ended up voting for McCain in the last election. We should remember that there are still young evangelicals who believe strongly in conservative Republican values, and while we think of the trend as the Republican party losing all of its young people, which polls indicate is happening, there are still young adults who vote Republican. I think that is an issue that would be interesting to address on the blog one of these days: how do we deal with young, socially conservative, and politically active evangelicals?.

Molly G. said...

Some interesting points have been brought up. Neal's idea that blurred party lines might lead to confusion for voters or maybe even the end of the party system definitely caught my attention. Although this is a valid concern, I believe that if the GOP took a more moderate stance on social issues, the differences between the two parties would become even more visible since the focus would be back on the "core values" each party espouses. This could actually lessen voter confusion, since they would be voting for the party that best embodied their federal and financial principles, rather than having to sacrifice these in favor of social agenda. And though Katie is right that the GOP has benefited in the past from taking a conservative social stance on issues such as the definition of the family, these issues lend much more power when they are emergent. In today's society, when ideas such as homosexuality and global warming are more mainstream, they are not as much of a rallying point for Republicans. I do, however, agree with AndiMS that taking a conservative stance on "newer", "still hot" issues such as stem cell research could draw voters to the GOP.

Adam L said...

I agree that one of the few ways for the Republican Party to survive is to focus on its non social issues. This may include turning their backs on the religious right for now. This would probably hurt them in the polls in the short run but create a party with an unlimited growth potential. If they cling to these social issues, I believe a long slow death approaches the Republican Party. Especially in this era, people will be much more attracted to a party for its economics stances than its social ones