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November 15, 2008

Is it Me or is it You?

A good starting point for determining where you stand on the future of the Republican Party can be reduced to this one multiple-choice question:

"Republicans are losing right now primarily because of ________."

(a) social liberals, social conservatives, or another component of the Party
(b) the ignorant electorate (i.e. the economy or another external event determines the outcome)
(c) John McCain

Yes, I know, many will be tempted to say "all of the above." And the truth is that a combination of weaknesses must be addressed in the next few years. But we need to decide where to put the emphasis.

Those who said (c) have the easiest task. Simply get a new face to rally behind in 2012; one who won't run such a disastrous campaign. Sack John McCain. Nothing to worry about here, and could we please stop accusing each other?

I think far more people are likely to choose (a) or (b).

The first group is where Ted Nugent and David Brooks are. They want to change the Party and its message by excising members they don't like. Partially this is a defensive maneuver from two sides of the Party which have been fighting forever: blame the other side so the middle ground won't blame you. According to these folks, our emphasis right now should be in marginalizing groups who were not helpful in this year's election. It is also a call to change the Party's message.

The second group is interesting to me because it is very pragmatic: external events control the fate of our Party; we'll win when the electorate understands that our policies are flexible enough to withstand the unanticipated. Consequently, our focus should be on educating the public, rather than adjusting our politics to conform to that which is popular at the moment. This is, by the way, the most fundamentally conservative position of the three. It assumes that the Republican Party and its core message are correct and in no need of adjustment/triangulation.

Later: One thing to consider when selecting which issues we will either change (for the (a) people out there) or which ones we will simply emphasize (for the (b) people) is that not all issues are important in determining the outcome of elections.

Ed Morrissey, arguing against Christine Todd Whitman's assessment that the Republican Party has been hijacked by "social fundamentalists", notes that social conservatism had very little to do with this election:

What were the issues foremost on the minds of voters? The failing economy, ethics, and national security. In Rasmussenís polling on issues, abortion didnít even make the top five:
  • Economy
  • Ethics & corruption
  • National security
  • Education
  • Health care
  • Taxes
  • Iraq
  • Social Security
  • Abortion
  • Immigration
Only the last two have anything to do with social conservatism, and they hardly drove the election.

Ed argues that the lack of social conservative issues in the Top 10 means those issues didn't hurt Republicans very much this year. However, the opposite is also true: they didn't help Republicans very much this year either. It means those issues weren't determinative and there was little reason to waste limited attention and scarce resources pushing them this year.

Florida and California went blue. . .but they passed some socially conservative ballot props. In other words, the social conservative message played a role, but supporting social conservative issues did not translate to voting for Republicans. It may have in the past (I'm thinking 2004), but not this year. Will it in the future?

Incidentally, I think it's a stretch to say that Immigration is a social conservative issue.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 01:04 PM

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