Sabato's Crystal Ball

Readers React: Future of the Republican Party

U.Va. Center for Politics January 24th, 2013

In last week’s Crystal Ball, we discussed the recent electoral troubles of the Republican Party and what it might take to improve the GOP’s chances in the future. We also asked our readers for their thoughts, and plenty took the opportunity to give us their input, ranging from mostly serious suggestions to a couple humorous ones.

Some readers expressed the need for the GOP to diversify. Gary Cocker from Dundee, Scotland, suggested that Republicans adopt “their own version of the NFL’s ‘Rooney Rule’ to move away from male, pale, & stale candidates.” Similarly, Carrie Conko at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center stressed that Republicans “could learn how to talk to women and have more women candidates.”

Many readers felt that Republicans should shift the party’s platform on social issues. William Agee of Bloomington, Indiana, viewed this as a starting point: “The GOP needs to recognize that there has been a shift in the social values of the country and that any mention of certain social issues only alienates potential voters versus gaining their support.” George Privon of California agreed, arguing that the GOP “should embrace liberty, social and fiscal.”

Others preached realpolitik. Dan Conley of Chicago advised the GOP “to look for ways to create and exploit divides with the Democratic Party” by handing Obama opportunities to move to the middle, thereby causing ruptures between the moderate and progressive wings of the opposition.  Roger Casey, a 2011 U.Va. graduate, argued that the GOP needs to “consider the most pragmatic means to achieve actual victories in elections rather than ideological purity.” Twitter user @RelaxFitEZine of Mesa, Arizona, perhaps summed it up best in this tweet: “[F]or 1 thing, stop nominating candidates who cannot win.”

Messages discussing Republican leadership were common. Dr. Laurence Brody from Los Angeles expressed concern over the types of candidates the GOP chooses, writing that “Republicans need to find someone that worked their way up from the bottom” instead of someone like Mitt Romney, who “personified the ‘rich guy with a silver spoon.’” Yiyu George Wang, a fourth year at U.Va., wrote in to say that a narrative shift will only happen if the GOP can find a new, 21st-century Ronald Reagan, “a leader that can appeal to the nation as a whole and rally the party around.” Wang pointed out that “Reagan was successful not because of some mistaken notion of ideological purity, but his ability to communicate to the American population and political acumen.”

But for some, talk of change was a product of overreaction. Joe Mayo argued that the 2012 result was fairly typical of American presidential elections, citing Grover Cleveland in 1888 as the last U.S. president to lose reelection when running for a second consecutive term without an intraparty challenge. Mayo said that “by and large, we elect presidents for eight years, especially when that president does not succeed his own party in the White House.” In the 20th century, only Jimmy Carter lost reelection when his party had controlled the White House for just one term, so Mayo has a point. Columbia University political science Prof. Richard Pious agreed, arguing that Democrats in the late 1920s and Republicans after Watergate looked hopeless, only to quickly rebound to retake the presidency in 1932 and 1980, respectively. “The results in the succeeding election should demonstrate to all analysts that while the odds favor the winning party, often there are quick reversals of fortune, so no one can be confident that the Republicans will be unable to stage a comeback in 2016.”

On the policy side of the coin, others agreed with the overreaction theme, stating that the GOP shouldn’t start meddling with its ideological tenets. Andrew Alisberg argued that Republican success in winning statehouses indicates that “the successful reforms undertaken at the state level [by Republican governors] will become more attractive to voters at the national level.” For John Nardone, Republican success would come if the GOP comes together to “stand firm on Constitutional principles such as limited government, and state[s’] rights.” These respondents, among others, felt the GOP cannot run away from its conservative platform without losing itself in the process.

A common criticism of the Republican Party’s long-time foil — the Democrats — pokes fun at their reputation for disorganization and disunity. There is of course the famous line from Will Rogers — “I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat.” Early 20th century humorist Finley Peter Dunne, writing as the Irish-American “Mr. Dooley,” offered a similar observation: “Th’ dimmycratic party ain’t on speakin’ terms with itsilf.” Given the various forces pushing and pulling the GOP in different directions, Mr. Dooley’s observation might be a more accurate descriptor of the Republicans at the moment, although the GOP’s identity crisis is a common and necessary reaction to political defeat.

Thanks to the many readers who emailed or tweeted us to contribute their thoughts and reactions.