TAUBE: How to make more room in the GOP tent
After some agonizing political defeats, the Republican Party is discussing and debating the right path for future congressional and presidential elections. One area that needs to be emphasized is finding a way to make greater inroads with different racial and religious minorities.
In the past, Republicans focused on an informal election strategy of winning over the majority of white voters and a smattering of others. This constant fallback position often made the party look weak and out of touch with modern America. Alas, there are conservative stalwarts, including lawyer and activist Phyllis Schlafly, who still think the best approach is to “reach out for the white votes.”
With all due respect to Mrs. Schlafly, this would be an unwise idea.
The GOP needs to maintain or increase its overall percentage of the white vote, but it also needs to substantially enhance its appeal with blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Asians and women. The party’s primary concern should be, therefore, to rebuild the political tent and not marginalize certain groups even further.
It will surely be a difficult battle for the GOP to fight. In one notable example, younger Hispanics, who are one of America’s fastest-growing ethnic groups, are heavily in the Democratic camp. The best way for the GOP to achieve long-lasting electoral success is to show they mean something to everyone, understand the needs of others, and that conservatives would welcome regular input from all racial and religious communities.
Solidifying the white vote would please some conservatives but ultimately destroy the party’s chances for future electoral success. It’s just not the right way to go.
Fortunately, it appears Republicans have the ability to break through with some communities in different parts of the country.
Syndicated columnist Star Parker recently examined the case of two black Louisiana Democrats — state Sen. Elbert Guillory and city council member Ralph Washington of Central City, La. — who switched to the Republican Party. Her assessment of this switch was particularly noteworthy: “The mystery is why this is not happening more often. I’m asked all the time why, when it is so clear that blacks are damaged by the left-wing political agenda, black voters so uniformly and consistently support candidates — Democrats — who advance this agenda. My answer is that Republicans need to start acting more like the businesspeople they claim to be.”
Now, some cynics will argue that Democrats switching to Republican in the South, no matter the racial or religious affiliation, is meaningless. Yet that’s an easy and incorrect way to dismiss this important shift in party allegiance.
Rather, the Republicans’ perception in Democratic-leaning communities has historically been viewed in a negative fashion because conservatives have sold their political and economic message poorly. A deficient communications strategy can, in turn, set back a party many steps in the process of breaking through in different communities.
Hence, Republicans must initiate a broader approach to winning elections and ultimately build a bigger and more permanent political coalition in the process.
The GOP needs to act like, as Ms. Parker suggested, the party of business. Capitalism must be promoted as an important theory and the free-market economy as a guiding principle. Support for across-the-board tax cuts, private-sector influence, trade liberalization and tax incentives for international companies to set up shop and increase job opportunities is a must. Fiscal conservatism has always resonated with different racial and religious communities, and now is a perfect time to re-emphasize this commitment.
The GOP also needs to act like the party of good governance. It’s incumbent for Republicans to promote smaller and more efficient government, less bureaucratic intrusion, and more transparency for politicians and political parties. Social programs need to be protected, but reforms to institutions such as health care and education have to be championed to make tax dollars more efficient.
Moreover, the GOP needs to act like the party of safety and security. The Republicans have to remain firm in their support of the war against terrorism, and refuse to negotiate with rogue states and totalitarian nations. Maintaining border security and cracking down on crime goes without saying. While the party must support the rights and freedoms of all legal immigrants, they have to maintain a watchful eye on illegal immigration.
If the Republican Party is able to use this approach to build a big political tent again to house all points of view, electoral success won’t be that far behind. To get to this stage, the chain linking the Democrats with different racial and religious communities must be permanently broken.