Questions the GOP must answer to win

It’s time for the Republican Party to squarely answer some questions with honesty and candor.

Let’s get right to it. The first question is whether we won or lost the last election. This might strike some readers as a weird question. Aren’t the votes all in and counted? Yes, but what votes are we counting? Too many Republicans won their own elections — for congressional or state office — thereby making the basis for a response ambiguous for “winning” Republicans. Let me be quick to say that I think we lost the election, falling to an embattled incumbent president and giving up ground in the war for congressional control. But because so many “leading Republicans” secured victory, it’s hard to get some heads around the notion of our defeat. Unless we acknowledge our collective defeat, we cannot get organized for real victory in the next round. Denying our loss hinders a probing assessment of what steps need to be taken to win next time. Too many incumbents in safe seats and states assume that more of the same will do. 

A second question we need to ponder is whether we are a political party or an interest group. Back in the day, when I was first learning my civics and political science, parties and interest groups were always presented as different animals. Obviously, parties are formed to nominate candidates and try to win elections. Parties coalesce and organize legislative factions. Very different are the organizations and movements we call interest groups. These groups advocate for specific issues and positions, thereby helping provide the grist of a political agenda that parties must grind into policy through candidate selection and governance. Political parties should not be factions in pursuit of some narrow agenda. Instead, parties are the agents that cure “the mischief of faction.” That’s not happening in our GOP often enough. Too often we are letting interest groups capture the party and turn it into an instrument of their doing. Too many Republicans are satisfied if the party makes the right stands on the right issues, whether we win or not. That attitude renders the party an interest group because it no longer holds to the goal of winning offices.

A third question asks whether the party really wants to broaden its appeal to achieve a national minimum winning coalition. Some party strategists pay lip service to “growing the party” by adding new constituencies, but very little is getting done other than formation of task forces and some tokenism in conducting outreach to critical groups like racial and ethnic minorities and attempting to broaden the regional footprint of the party — which a sober assessment suggests is not working, except maybe in the Midwest, where there are some signs of a rejuvenated Republican presence. The most glaring problem for Republicans is the party’s failure to keep up in competing for the rapidly growing Latino and Hispanic vote. While there are some prominent Hispanic leaders championing the need for genuine progress dealing with issues like immigration reform, for too many others this is just another can to kick down the road. It doesn’t affect their reelection. And it’s not just Hispanics who are being neglected, either. Working-class entrepreneurs like self-employed tradesmen too often just don’t figure in the plans of a GOP where big business rules the roost.

A final question is whether we’re actually fielding the strongest possible campaigns or whether we’re just allowing well-connected consultants and strategists to lead us down paths that do more to ensure their own personal financial benefit than winning elections for the party. Are the best possible minds, using the best possible tools and strategies, running things the right way? It’s time to ask this question.

Our 2012 loss demands a sober assessment of each question.

David Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.