Republicans Need to Reboot on Policy, Too

On Monday Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus unveiled the party’s official postmortem on the 2012 election, and it turned out to be surprisingly thorough and honest, even scathing.

“The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself,” the paper read.

“Our party knows how to appeal to older voters, but we have lost our way with younger ones,” it said at another point.

“Unless changes are made, it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future,” it concluded.

We’ll have more to say Tuesday about this white paper, which recommended major changes in primaries, debates, organization, and voter outreach.

But though Priebus claimed it would not focus on policy, that inevitably crept in. For instance, after bemoaning its grim prospects among Hispanics, the paper said:

…Among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.

And then there was this:

Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.

Exactly right. Many young people are worried about limited mobility and fiscal disaster down the road, but they won’t consider voting for a party held hostage by troglodytes and bigots. In this regard, the statement this past weekend by Sen. Rob Portman in support of gay marriage as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs the issue may be a real turning point for the GOP.

Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, speaks at CPAC in 2012. Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore.

Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, speaks at CPAC in 2012. Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore.

And finally, the Republican white paper calls for a turn away from big business, which with the party has been associated since at least the 1920s, and towards economic populism:

We have to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare. We should speak out when a company liquidates itself and its executives receive bonuses but rank-and-file workers are left unemployed. We should speak out when CEOs receive tens of millions of dollars in retirement packages but middle-class workers have not had a meaningful raise in years.

That would be a sea change from the knee-jerk defense of any corporate action by the Romney campaign. But it echoes statements made in a striking Wall Street Journal op-ed a few weeks ago by Arthur C. Brooks, the independent-minded president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute:

Over the decades many Americans have become convinced that conservatives care only about the rich and powerful…. Conservatives are fighting a losing battle…They hand an argument with virtually 100% public support—care for the vulnerable—to progressives, and focus instead on materialistic concerns and minority moral viewpoints.

Raging against government debt and tax rates that most Americans don’t pay gets conservatives nowhere… [But] by making the vulnerable a primary focus, conservatives will be better able to confront some common blind spots. Corporate cronyism should be decried as every bit as noxious as statism, because it unfairly rewards the powerful and well-connected at the expense of ordinary citizens.

Sounds good, but remember, this is the elite of the elite talking. Extremist Republican voters, who dominate primaries, are having none of it so far. And how will the “corporate cronies,” who give hundreds of millions of dollars to the party, like being vilified by Republicans as well as Democrats?

Still, this is a big step forward for a party that’s lost in the wilderness. At least now it has a roadmap and a compass.


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