In politics you have two options: win elections and control the agenda or lose elections and cede the agenda.
At a time when the federal government is making some of the most important decisions our nation has ever faced, GOP leaders have not been able to come up with a real strategy that can motivate its moderate base -- the real majority -- needed to elect more leaders and enable a more balanced Republican representation in Congress.
Much hay has been made that the defection of Senator Arlen Specter was about winning -- and it was -- but he was also following 240,000 of his constituents who switched parties last year. The vast majority of these voters were pro-choice, fiscally conservative, socially inclusive Republicans who believed the Party had become too focused on an extreme social policy, and had strayed too far from its tenets of limited government.
The GOP leadership's response to Senator Specter was similar to this past election, when the Party lost the White House and both houses of Congress: reinforce its "conservatism." The election proved that their new kind of "conservatism," one which promotes big government intrusion, no longer wins. And yet, bolstering it continues to be the GOP leadership strategy for success?
Earlier this month, the GOP leadership announced the National Council for a New America -- a softer, gentler GOP that wants to hear new ideas and bring in coalitions of voters. However, the group's leading spokespeople are all white, socially conservative men. These are not the faces of "new ideas" that will help draw in a more diverse voting base.
The Republican leadership must look to see who in their Party is winning -- both elections and new voters. Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine both won their last elections with 61% and 72% of the voter respectively. Representatives Lynn Jenkins of Kansas and Leonard Lance of New Jersey are two freshman members of Congress -- people who won in one of the most dismal election cycles for the GOP. Though they may not agree with every moderate voter, or even each other on every issue, these leaders govern with the big-tent, limited-government ideals in mind. And they win.
Exit polling from the last election showed that the GOP lost in just about every demographic except for older white voters, predominantly in the South. Dig a little deeper and the numbers tell a much more dire story for the GOP. The Democratic base is growing while the proportion of swing and Republican voters is on the decline. In 2008, the Democratic base was 41% of the overall vote versus just 27% for the GOP. To compound this problem, the Democratic Party is capturing new voters: 54% percent of the under thirty vote in the last election. Further, polling released this week revealed that nearly 60% of independent women, one of the largest and fastest growing voting blocs, identify with the Democratic party versus just 35% for the GOP. These are gaps that cannot be ignored.
The majority of Republican voters care about jobs, having a government that does not waste their money and keeping their families safe. The GOP continually gives them more rhetoric banning abortion and stopping gay marriage. The disconnect between the leadership and the base is so wide that any effort to keep centrist, women and younger voters in the party is becoming impossible.
The GOP can only regain its political power by winning elections. And the Republicans who are being elected are doing so by embracing the real Republican majority. The party must follow their lead and create an incentive for fiscally conservative, socially inclusive elected leaders to stay Republican.