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Evans

The GOP Must Face Facts

Sean Evans, Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science
Oct 18, 2013

In Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick, Captain Ahab relentlessly pursues a white whale to extract revenge for previously destroying his ship. His obsession becomes so great that he irrationally pursues the whale to the point of destroying his ship and killing his crew. Like Ahab, the tea party is so obsessed with the president, Obamacare, the Republican establishment and compromise that it has lost its focus and is sinking the Republican ship. The conservative movement’s primary focus should be on winning, not on any person, law or tactic. If it cannot win elections, it cannot achieve its goal of smaller, limited government.

This past month is emblematic of tea party members’ obsession as they used an unsustainable political strategy to pursue an outcome — defunding Obamacare — they couldn’t obtain, because they just control half of one branch of government. When leadership tried to broker a compromise to avoid further political damage, the tea party rebelled and ended up with a result worse than it could have been.
 
While conservatives may feel good about remaining true to their principles, the Republican Party suffered as approval of the GOP dropped 10 percent in one week to reach a record Gallup Poll low (28 percent) as 70 percent of Americans thought that the party pursued the shutdown for political, not principled, reasons. The result is a more damaged Republican Party less likely to win and thus enact smaller government.
 
The simple fact is that the public does not trust the GOP, which means that it will not entrust Republicans with power. This lack of trust is seen in polls showing a majority of Americans have had an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party for eight consecutive years.
 
While the establishment is largely to blame for this, as Bush and congressional Republicans did not govern well or conservatively at times, the tea party contributes to this by nominating extremists who have cost the GOP five Senate seats in the past two elections. They take stances signaling that voters who hold differing views are not welcome in the party, and manufacture crises that accomplish nothing.
 
As the tea party and the Republican establishment move forward, they need to ask questions. First, how can the party reconcile competing factions? A divided GOP will not win elections.
 
Second, how can the GOP improve its brand, via policies, strategies, outreach and messaging, so a majority trusts them again?
 
Third, what are the party’s solutions to today’s problems? The GOP wants to repeal and replace Obamacare, enact immigration, entitlement and tax reform, but has not presented appealing policies.
 
Fourth, how can the GOP expand its electoral coalition? The GOP is an aging, white party in an increasingly diverse nation that must reach new voters to survive.
 
Fifth, how can the GOP win in swing states, not just red states? The road to the White House and a Senate majority runs through swing states like Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio.
 
The conservative movement and the Republican Party need each other. Conservatives can provide policies that rebrand the party as one concerned with all Americans, while the establishment has a sense of how to get there.
 
This column originally appeared in the Oct. 18th edition of The Jackson Sun