While many Democrats saw their sweeping victories last fall as the sign of a new era of liberal ascendancy, polling taken then and since shows that despite Barack Obama’s brief period of popularity, America remains a center-right nation. Conservatives outnumber liberals in every state, with nearly twice as many Americans identifying as conservative than as liberal. If Republicans could hold those conservative voters and bring in just over one-third of moderates, they would win the same popular vote majority Democrats received that fall.
But, up until quite recently (like, um, last month), Republicans have had a problem not just with moderates, but also with conservatives. Many just weren’t convinced we would stand up for any of the principles near and dear to their hearts.
As Michael Barone explains there “are more conservatives than Republicans“. That expression alone explains why Republicans have had such difficulty the last two election cycles. Not all conservatives (including a number of very good bloggers ) don’t consider themselves Republican and have regularly (indeed quite frequently during W’s second term) expressed their displeasure with the GOP.
For at least the past six months, since the first Tea Parties in February, growing numbers of Americans have publicly expressed their opposition to increased government spending, a concern the Democratic presidential candidate tapped into in his successful bid for the White House. With a Republican President and Congress not holding the line on spending, many of those conservatives become disenchanted with the GOP and either didn’t bother to vote or registered their disapproval by pulling the lever for a Third Party candidate or even the Democrat. (In 2008, Obama got 20% of the conservative vote, up from John Kerry’s 15% four years previously.)
By building on what Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson call the “durable national consensus hold[ing] that American interests are served by the promotion of free trade and classical liberal ideas” that Republicans can hold onto the conservative base while winning back many of the moderates they lost in the last four years and so recapture the majority.
In a piece just published in Commentary, Wehner and Gerson find that President Obama, “by indulging his seemingly limitless faith in the power of government to solve every human ill.” has given the GOP a path to revival.
To be sure, this is not all they say is essential to Republican rebuilding. They also believe Republicans need “put forth a comprehensive reform agenda,” continue to promote a strong national defense, reach out to Hispanics and address “issues of social justice from a conservative perspective.” Importantly, our party needs new strategies to address an electorate than has changed since the Gipper’s heyday:
The need of the moment is not for greater “ideological purity” (a phrase which Reagan himself abhorred) but for greater clarity; not for louder voices but for more thoughtful and persuasive ones; not for retrenchment but for outreach; not for building a bridge to the past but for creativity and innovation for the moment and for the future.
With polls showing a growing distaste for big government and a solid conservative plurality, Republicans have great opportunity to recover from the losses of the preceding two election cycles. The essence of that revival means a return to the principles of Ronald Reagan, but with an approach suited to our times.
In a certain sense, the Gipper brought to our party the ideas which transformed it and made it (all too briefly, alas!) the majority party. His ideas reshaped the GOP. Now, we need leaders to communicate those ideas to the American people.
Make sure to read Wehner and Gerson’s piece. Print it out as I did and consider carefully what they have to say. Should leaders of our party be able in implement the suggestions they offer, just over three years hence, Democrats will feel as we did just shy of ten months ago.