Several weeks ago, I wrote a column titled "What Being a Republican Should Mean." In that piece, I outlined all of the reasons why the GOP has lost its way and why it's a terrible shame that the nation doesn't feel like it is a realistic opposition party. While being the easiest laugh for every hack political comedian may make the Republicans fun to keep around, it is more important to the country to have a viable second party than it is to have a living, breathing punch line.
Much of the criticism that I received from that column came from the fact that I did not explain how the Republican party can become viable again -- a question that I hope to answer now.
First of all, the party needs to understand the problem. Since the 2008 campaign, the mood of the Republicans has been that the problem is with the Democrats. When Romney lost the election, half the country was rejoicing and the other half was scoffing at what fools we were for re-electing Barack Obama. The attitude cannot continue to be: "What's wrong with them?" It needs to be "what's wrong with us?"
The strategy should not be to try and convince people that the Democrats are foolish. That is the play that the GOP has been running for the past four years and it's fundamentally flawed. The only people that they are going to convince that liberalism is foolish are people who aren't already liberals. No one likes hearing that they are the one causing the problems so they will fight tooth and nail to prove that they aren't. Thus, it's no surprise that this strategy has lost the Republican Party two consecutive presidential elections. The Democrats have demonstrated their majority in the nation and basic logic has demonstrated that telling someone they're dumb does not suddenly make them think your way. Convincing them that you're smart, however, always wins.
Therefore, the party has to understand while they move forward that the enemy isn't the Democrats, but rather the opinion that America has of the once great party. How they combat that perception will be the key. There are a few ways to begin doing this effectively.
For starters, the party needs to get rid of the blatant disconnect between the primary campaigns and the presidential campaigns. Mitt Romney had to spend the first several months of his bid for the White House pandering to the far-right Tea Partiers. These are the voters who make the party look racist, anti-women, homophobic and overly religious. Romney faced an uphill battle against Obama as it was. Having to wade through all of those months of pandering to the people whose agendas don't progress the country at all and merely create noise in the political arena made it significantly more difficult. That must go. Each party has an image to maintain and voters are no longer willing to look past these issues and they shouldn't.
Many won't do this because they're afraid that they'll lose votes to third-party candidates like the Libertarians or the Green Party. However, the U.S. is, and will for the foreseeable future remain, a bi-partisan electorate. There are Democrats and Republicans and any vote outside of that bracket is a waste of a vote. I don't say that to diminish the hopes or importance of third parties, I simply mean to speak in practical generalities and make the point that Republicans have far less to fear from not pandering to the radical right than they seems to think.
Following that, the party needs to show that not only is it a modern party with reasonable ideas, it needs to outline why Republican values make sense. Strong military for the purpose of defense, free market economics and a general idea that you are better suited to spend your money than the federal government. They need to combat the idea that the party is made up entirely of rich white men who just want to stay rich and show the world that they believe the way to stimulate an economy is not to punish people for having, what the Democrats would call, an unreasonable amount of wealth.
Those are the broad strokes to give the country what it needs to be a viable two-party system once again. Republicans need to identify the problem realistically. They need to stop catering to the unreasonable and destructive wills of the far right; they need to toughen up and not worry about losing votes when there is no one to lose votes to and they need to outline why they're different from the Democrats and that those difference have nothing to do with being backwards thinkers. Only then can we restore the country to the bi-partisan electorate that makes us a strong nation predicated on choice.
This op-ed originally appeared in the University of Connecticut's Daily Campus.