1. Admit we were beat. It wasn’t Superstorm Sandy, it wasn’t the bias of the mainstream media, and it wasn’t dirty tricks. The Obama 2012 committee ran a superior campaign, had a better candidate, and executed a better ground game. As Republicans, we must recognize we have a problem before we can begin to solve it. Let’s not blame others; the fault lies with us.
2. Stand for something. Campaigning against someone or something alone is not enough. For the majority of the race, Governor Romney was willing to attack the president without giving a clear vision of what he would do as president. To be successful, Republicans must be the party of ideas and our standard bearers have to articulate those ideas to gain the support of the public. Americans want leaders willing to talk in specifics. Like him or not, Americans respect Paul Ryan for actually putting forth his plan to address our government’s out-of-control spending. Another example: Jeb Bush was initially criticized for proposing to grade schools and require testing to show each child’s progress. Now, Governor Bush’s educational reforms are a core aspect of the Obama Administration’s education policies.
3. Understand demographic destiny. Exit polls show: More than 70% of Hispanics voted for the president, as did 60% of voters under age 40, and as did 55% of women. Being on the wrong side of the fastest growing demographics in the country, and more than half the population, is tough sledding. The white vote has fallen from 74% to 72% since 2008, and that number will be smaller still in 2016. It even appears that President Obama may have won the Cuban vote in Florida, a previously unimaginable result. Al Cardenas is right that we are a party that is perceived as “too old, too white, and too male.” I would add to that litany “too rich.” Does this mean we have to change our ideas and become “Democrat lite”? No. It means we have to open wide our doors to our customers. Our ideals of free enterprise, personal responsibility, faith and family, for example, should be great bridges to the Hispanic community. But winning new constituencies will take more than lip service. The Republican National Committee should start tomorrow on a major effort to earn support in the Hispanic community, to listen as well as speak, and begin the business of building a broader coalition.
4. Choose an authentic messenger. I believe Mitt Romney would have been a very fine president, uniquely talented and experienced to tackle the issues America faces. He was not, however, a great candidate. A “Father Knows Best” establishment Republican, he was emblematic of what the Republican Party has become to many: An elite party of aristocrats. Supported by the moneyed class and the son of a former governor, Romney looked and acted the part of a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth who turned it into a pot of gold. Moreover, money made Mitt Romney the nominee. His overwhelming financial advantage in the primaries discouraged more electable candidates. In Florida alone, Romney outspent Newt Gingrich by 4 to 1. The ambassador class of the Republican Party (former and aspiring), who raise the majority of money for presidential candidates, needs to back better candidates or get out of the process.
For much of our early history, candidates in our country bragged about being born in poverty (a log cabin), even if they were not. It is part of the American myth, the Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story. Americans, especially those not well off, want to know their president can relate to their own experience, that he has walked a mile in their proverbial shoes. Presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton successfully carried this narrative. George W. Bush’s Texas twang and colloquialisms masked his Ivy League education and patrician roots. Candidate likability often comes down to one word, empathy. Mitt Romney didn’t have it. Our next nominee must in some way represent the diversity of this country as well as possess a personal story that can assure everyday Americans that we are on the same side.
The Grand Old Party has lost its voice with everyday Americans. Instead of being seen as the fighter for the common man, our party is seen as the protector of big business and crony capitalism. Instead of being seen as a guardian against higher taxes and bigger government, the Republican Party is seen as the hero of the wealthy. How is it when people hear “successful Republican” the image portrayed is that of champagne dreams and caviar wishes? Fighting for nurses, teachers, mechanics, and construction workers is not antithetical to any principle held by conservatives. We should want nothing more than to create opportunities for individual freedom and prosperity for Americans at all rungs on the economic ladder.
5. Paint a hopeful vision of America. This is what Ronald Reagan did best. It is what Barack Obama did with oratorical greatness in the 2008 campaign. Republicans must articulate why under Republican leadership America will be a better place to find a good paying job, start a business, raise a family, and pursue happiness. As Carl Sandburg wrote, America is still a land of prosperity reminiscent of “the crimson light of a rising sun fresh from the hand of God.”
Why does this all matter? It matters because our party’s principles are best equipped to address our country’s challenges of debt, deficits and economic stagnation, but we can’t impact solutions from the minority. If Republicans want to win national elections and provide solutions to the immense issues facing America, we had better get about the business of putting our own house in order. Otherwise, the Grand Old Party will find itself with the Whigs, the Know-Nothings, and the Populists — a former political party.
LeMieux is a former Republican, United States Senator from Florida and the current Chairman of the Board of the Gunster law firm.