What the GOP Must Learn from Its Big Defeat

Republicans are reeling from a truly historical defeat.

Not only did they lose the White House soundly to an incumbent who had presided over 8%+ unemployment for most of his presidency; they actually lost the Senate badly in a year when more than twice as many contested seats had belonged to Democrats than to Republicans.

Republicans can take some solace from their comfortable win in the House of Representatives. But this election was an outright repudiation of a party that seemed this close to victory.

We all know why: The GOP went all in on the Tea Party, particularly aiming at older white men whose angry outbursts defined that movement from 2009’s town hall meetings to the Republican primaries.

The nation’s demographics are changing more rapidly than anyone expected, bringing in a surge of younger, more Asian and more Latino voters. Younger voters in particular are more liberal on social issues. Wisconsin elected the first openly gay U.S. senator. Women pushed back against troglodytes like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, helping Democrats win in states where they never should have.

Republican pundits are still in shock. The more honest ones admit the GOP has a real problem. Here’s what they should say to themselves and their voters.

Throw in the towel on immigration. One of the main reasons Romney lost the election was that he took the hardest line possible on immigration in the debates with Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Remember “self-deportation”? The president won more than 70% of Hispanic voters and an even higher total of Asians. If the GOP continues to pander to the haters, it will commit political suicide for the next generation.

Mitt Romney takes on Rick Perry on immigration at a debate during the primary season.

Republicans need to strike a compromise that includes much stricter border controls, a path to citizenship and allowing more green cards for highly skilled and educated professionals. This is just a return to policies backed by George W. Bush and the old John McCain. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and current Sen. Marco Rubio can lead the way on this, but the rank and file must be ready to follow.

End the addiction to supply-side tax cuts. Supply-side economics has been such an obvious failure for 20 years that it’s amazing Republicans cling to it—especially since it created such problems for Romney. By advocating 20% cuts in personal tax rates as a keystone of his economic plan, he made the math impossible, as Bill Clinton skillfully pointed out. If Romney hadn’t thrown in those tax cuts during the primaries, he would have been much more credible as a deficit cutter and a candidate.

Look, I’m not even suggesting the GOP support higher taxes; that’s against their core philosophy. But at least stop pushing for more personal tax cuts and focus on cutting corporate taxes and broad-based tax reform instead. By doing that, they may even attract some Democrats’ support, heaven forfend.

Kick the fanatics to the curb. Neanderthals like Akin and Mourdock have no business running for the US Senate, but they’re the result of 30 years of kowtowing to the extreme Christian right, whose views on social issues have become political poison as a new generation emerges.

Again, the GOP will always be the “pro-life” party and many Republicans see abortion as a profound moral issue. That’s fine. But both Akin and Mourdock were among a wave of candidates angry, uncompromising Republican voters embraced to express their rage against President Obama.

That’s where it gets tough. The problem is not the pundits or even the politicians; it’s that too many Republican voters are frightened and out of control. By using their votes to vent their rage rather than select potentially winning candidates, they’re making bad choices that will likely hurt themselves and their own party more in the long run.

Now, will anyone really have the guts to tell them? And if so,  who will it be?



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