The RNC Autopsy Report, Part 2: Inclusion
In the first part, I suggested that the GOP transform into and set forth the message that they are the party of individual opportunity and responsibility. Within those contexts, there can be room for disagreement. This part deals with the unfortunate herd mentality that defines politics today. Too often when a party fails, they look at which group or other where the message or the candidate failed and that usually comes down to demographic groups.
This report starts with a set of assumptions- some correct and some not so correct- that the Republican Party is one of exclusion instead of inclusion. I would argue that if the Republican Party strives towards some concept of ideological purity and then excludes groups with which they traditionally disagree, then the Democratic Party is no less guilty. Part of this is institutionally based in the media where Hispanic, black, Asian, female and young Republicans are marginalized. What else explains the pillorying of a war hero like Alan West, the marginalization of Tim Scott, the insults thrown at Marco Rubio for sipping water, the portrayal of a Supreme Court Justice like Clarence Thomas, etc.? Yet, can the Democratic Party name one minority elected member who does not subscribe to the theory that the government is the answer to all problems in this country?
Another erroneous assumption is that the Republican Party needs to “win” this or that minority group. In the recent debate over immigration reform, one worry is that reform will be delivering 8 million Democratic voters to the rolls. First, this assumes that the current trends among Hispanic voters will continue- that they are a lost cause and that any Democrat can take for granted at least 65% of the Hispanic vote. Second, it assumes that the Hispanic population is evenly spread throughout the United States. Their worries are potentially troublesome if (1) that were true and (2) we elected a President by national popular vote. A simple example proves the opposite: In 2008, if Barack Obama had captured 90% of the Hispanic vote in Texas, he still would have lost that state’s electoral votes by a rather comfortable margin. Instead, the goal is to first arrest the erosion of support among Hispanics and then to begin the process of making gains with that segment of the growing population. I still firmly believe and argue that Republican/conservative policies appeal to Hispanics to a greater degree than Democratic/liberal policies.
Here, the report suggests the obvious- greater outreach to minority communities and groups. It starts with sincere minority group engagement and dialogue. Many of the suggestions are also suggested for other groups. They suggest Hispanic communications and political directors which may sound like some affirmative action program within the RNC. However, it makes perfect sense to have Spanish-speaking Republicans who can relay the message and rebut Democratic lies. They spend a lot of time talking about embracing comprehensive immigration reform and making the tone of conversation more understanding and gentle. I have written about this in the past and the fact that border enforcement can move simultaneously with dealing with the undocumented immigrants currently here. In fact, comprehensive immigration reform, if phrased as an economic opportunity program, would likely hold greater resonance within the Hispanic community than the pure pandering for votes Democratic policies espouse. For those relatively few Hispanics and non-Hispanics who believe the border should be nothing than a symbolic line on a map, let that minority belong to the Democratic Party.
There should naturally be field staff of Republicans in minority communities with a commitment to those field offices. They likely will be money-losers, but they convey a perception towards the minority community. And every poll I have read regarding Hispanics indicates that other than garden variety economic issues, their biggest concern is education. Here, the Republican Party’s emphasis on parental choice should naturally resonate with the Hispanic community and I cannot stress pushing this message strongly enough. This is a key wedge issue when it comes to a choice between the Republican Party and the Democrats and needs to be used fully utilized. Also, stressing the fact that Republican policies and programs strengthen the individual and, by extension, all of us would also likely not fall on deaf ears if the message is conveyed correctly. Regarding that tone of speech, I like to refer to it as the “Tancredoization” of the conversation. There are people within the Republican Party who feel very strongly about this issue who simply come off as incendiary. However, the process of stifling their voice is one more worthy of liberals and the Democratic Party.
As was discussed across all the groups mentioned, the Republican Party needs to not shy away from organized groups. I doubt that a Republican or conservative would be well received before a meeting of a group like La Raza, for example, but doing so shows a willingness to walk into the lion’s den and could have the added effect of maybe perhaps creating a question in the minds of some members. Granted, it is more for perception, but could it hurt? When Republicans address a group like the NAACP, I can think of no incidences where they were booed off the stage. Taking a page from Christie in New Jersey, after he enacted major teacher reforms in New Jersey, where was his first stop? It was in a public school in a Democratic north Jersey stronghold. Here, he did get booed and heckled…and eventually respected.
As for the female vote, the report mentions that the number two concern among women was a candidate “who would fight for them.” I do not quite know what that means in practical terms and I assume their number one concern was economic issues. Again, the Republican Party and conservative principles and policies should resonate with this group. What can be a better winning message than attempting to put more money in their pocketbook? Which brings us to the question of abortion. Democrats and liberals tend to categorize women through this issue. Personally, I believe that is demeaning to all women. Look at how they attack and marginalize women who voice a pro-life view: they are portrayed as some cave dwelling thing still dragging their knuckles on the ground. Unfortunately, conservatives often fall for the “gotcha” questions designed to drive a wedge between the candidate and “the women’s vote.” And it works! In short, by concentrating more on the pocketbook and a little less on the bedroom, Republicans and conservative candidates would likely do a little better. One does not have to abandon their heartfelt beliefs, but sticking to the issues that most concern most women is always a winning message. It is quite doubtful that most of the female electorate decides on a pick of candidates exclusively on the issue of abortion. And if they do, let that minority vote for the Democrat. And while on the bedroom issues, can contraception please be less of an issue (unless defending the more important tenet of religious freedom)?
The one area where I fully agree with the report is that the Republican Party needs to be more aggressive in their responses to allegations of a “war on women.” Being pro-life is pro-life, not anti-woman. Expressing concern for mandatory contraception coverage for health care plans offered by religious institutions is pro-religious freedom, not anti-woman. Being certain that women receive equal pay for equal work without resorting to what could become a confusing constitutional amendment is pro-enforcement of existing laws, not anti-woman. Too often, Republicans run scared from the issue rather than articulating their view succinctly and politely.
With the youth vote, some analysis has mentioned that Republicans and conservatives can make some gains here by lightening up on the social issues, especially gay marriage. With this issue, there is a happy compromise, namely leaving it to the states to decide through the political process. While some frame this is as the “civil rights issue of our time,” it is, in reality, the licensing issue of our time, an area traditionally reserved to states. Along with this, however, it is incumbent upon the Republican Party to be, unlike the lock-step Democratic Party, respectful of those with views that favor traditional opposite-sex marriage. There is a recent poll out among Republicans age 18-29 that shows 40% of the respondents are either in favor of or ambivalent towards gay marriage with this latter category saying that marriage is a religious, not political issue (or should be). That is up from 25% support five short years ago in that age category. Evidence from across the country regarding young Republicans indicates that the issue is just not that big a concern with the focus being on economic issues. Regardless, defining the youth vote around a single issue like gay marriage is no better than defining the woman’s vote around the issue of abortion.
The report goes on to focus on taking advantage of young Republican groups on college campuses. Of course, that should have been happening anyway. Naturally, there are some barriers at many colleges and universities. One need look no further than those examples where conservative speakers sponsored by conservative/GOP groups on campus are invited and the resulting uproar. Ann Coulter can be described as “incendiary;” a professor like Cornell West is held in high academic esteem and given tenure. However, the goal should not necessarily be to invite speakers to campus, but to identify, register and get out young conservative voters on Election Day. Even on the most liberal of college campuses, there are potential GOP voters. Some of our best conservative legal minds hold degrees from liberal law schools like Harvard. Also, the suggestions that Republicans make appearances in the popular press and on shows like “The Colbert Report” and John Stewart and the like makes sense. Again, shying away from unpopular forums creates the perception of avoidance. Either the Republican Party thinks it has it right on policy positions or it doesn’t. If it does, then defense and explanation of those policies in all media venues should be a no-brainer.
Perhaps one of the biggest political ironies of the past 50 years is the drift of blacks from the Republican Party to the Democrats where the Democrats can now expect fully 90% of the African-American vote despite the color of their candidate’s skin. Like the Hispanics, the goal need not be a complete flipping of the vote, but eating into it. Bringing in 15% of the black vote nationally would have to be considered a success. Again, economic issues stressing opportunity and those like school choice should resonate with black voters. Unfortunately, Democrats have obtained a monopoly on the vote by essentially buying it through government hand outs. Where Republicans need to concentrate is where Obama started in Chicago- the network of black churches that, at heart, are somewhat conservative. Simply, look at the success of Proposition 8 banning gay marriage in California of all places. Most analysis of that vote indicates that black mobilization through their churches against gay marriage brought that vote over the finish line.
There are a number of commonsense ideas within this report when it comes to minority groups and women and the youth vote. Of course, a lot of this requires grassroots organization from the ground up. Fortunately, there are organizations at that level, especially among younger voters, that can get the ball rolling. If nothing else, the past two Democratic presidential victories illustrate the power of organizing from the ground up. More importantly, they illustrate the importance of the message over substance and follow-up with potential voters.