Republican Party has to embrace moderation or lose crucial voters

Despite the midterm setback last year, the Republican Party still controls the White House, the Senate, and a majority of governorships and state legislatures. Regardless of the mediocre approval rating and continuing woes of President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure MORE, the power of incumbency and an overcrowded field of Democratic Party opponents mean that he is more likely than not headed for reelection next year. But when I view the Republican Party, I see only missed opportunities to broaden its base and leadership that seems content to appeal only to a narrow portion of the electorate.

It is hard to believe that in the not so distant past, Republicans Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were each reelected with massive victories across 49 states. It is even harder to fathom that both Nixon and Reagan were from California which, together with Illinois, New York, and most of New England, has remained out of reach for Republican presidential candidates for the past 20 years. The same goes for statewide races in California and New York, in which Republicans have barely been able to field credible candidates in recent years. When you couple this with an inability to compete in nearly every major city, the Republican Party is basically not even trying to win over voters in many parts of the nation.

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This is a recipe for failure in the next election and beyond. Republicans are facing a very real and growing generational divide whereby they are seen by younger voters as racially intolerant, hostile to immigrants, and out of touch on major issues of the day. Just look at some of the most significant matters in the past few years that the Republican Party has managed to bungle by failing to embrace mainstream positions.

Take same sex marriage for example. President Obama, President Clinton, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection What the Mueller report tells us about Putin, Russia and Trump's election Steve Bullock puts Citizens United decision at center of presidential push MORE, and most of the Democratic Party only belatedly embraced same sex marriage when it was clear that public opinion had shifted in its favor. Imagine if Republicans as the “family values” party had preempted Democrats by asserting that the ultimate pro-family position would be to support same sex couples looking to pledge their love for each other. In addition to being the right thing to do, the Republican Party could have gotten in front of a major issue whose time had certainly come.

Then there is immigration policy. Immigration is the number one issue that, since California Governor Pete Wilson associated with the disastrous Proposition 187 in the 1990s, caused the Republican Party brand to be toxic in that state. Yet in the two decades since then, Republicans have failed to seriously tackle immigration reform. While polls vary on the specifics, a majority of the public supports securing the borders while at the same time providing a path to citizenship for the millions of law abiding undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States. Addressing this issue would demonstrate that Republicans are able to compromise with Democrats and not anti-immigrant as critics claim, yet party leaders are unwilling or unable to get this done.

Gun control is another major issue with broad public support for a commonsense moderate stance that the Republican Party chooses to ignore. It can stake out a position whereby it supports fundamental Second Amendment rights but also acknowledges there are steps that can be taken to address the horrific mass shootings that have occurred on a near regular basis. This could include an assault weapons ban, longer waiting periods, and raising the age at which firearms may be purchased. When Senator Rick Scott served as the governor of Florida, he signed into law new gun limits that implemented many of these restrictions. How amazing would it be for the national Republican Party to follow his lead and prove that it can stand up to the National Rifle Association?

A Republican who espouses limited government, a strong national defense, support of law enforcement, and sensible regulation of the financial sector, yet embraces moderate and forward thinking policy positions on immigration, gun control, and race relations can win across 50 states. If the Republican Party has any chance of broadening its base, it must embrace more mainstream stances on a wide variety of issues. Otherwise, it will continue to lose voters and remain on the path of electoral decline. The patience moderates have had with a Republican Party that continuously rejects moderation will eventually run out.

Joseph Moreno is a former federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice and a United States Army combat veteran. He is now an attorney based in Washington. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephMoreno.