2014 New Years Resolutions for the Republican Party
It is almost time to turn the page on 2013, and, for the Republican Party, this past year has been remarkably mixed.
Republicans faced numerous challenges in 2013. President Obama’s inauguration to a second term in January in the midst of a stagnant economy and unpopular healthcare law prompted dire warnings for the GOP and calls for the party to seriously re-brand itself. In October, Republicans were initially blamed for a government shutdown after conservatives in Congress refused to accept an appropriations bill that funded the Affordable Care Act. Finally, in November, Democrats swept all statewide offices in Virginia for the first time since 1969.
However, there were also some definite high-water marks for the GOP. In April, the Senate rejected gun control legislation that had been one of President Obama’s major legislative initiatives early in his second term. Scandals, such as revelations by the Internal Revenue Service that they targeted Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny on their 501(c) applications and the discovery that the Obama administration secretly stole phone records and emails from an Associated Press reporter, damaged the President’s credibility. Next, the Obamacare rollout was disastrous and validated many earlier Republican criticisms of the law. Finally, in November, Republican Governor Chris Christie won a resounding reelection in New Jersey.
Although 2013 was a tumultuous year in politics, 2014 is shaping up to be an even greater test for both political parties with next year’s midterm elections determining who will control Congress. In order to learn from their mistakes over the last two campaign seasons, the Republican Party should adopt these four New Years Resolutions in 2014…
1. Take a “listen, don’t lecture” approach to voter outreach.
No partisan base- liberal or conservative- is sizeable enough in the United States to win elections by themselves. Therefore, both Republicans and Democrats must reach out to moderates, independents, and undecided voters in order to build a large enough coalition for electoral success.
Over the years, Democrats have managed to successfully unite a varied coalition of voters that includes suburban women, union workers, environmental groups, college students, and minorities. Indeed, many of these voting blocs often have significant disagreements on certain issues. For example, union workers tend to oppose ambitious environmental regulation championed by other Democrats because it threatens industrial jobs, affluent suburban women are often less supportive of liberal economic policy, which redistributes wealth away from their families, and many racial minorities sympathize with social conservatism due to strong religious convictions. However, these voters often remain loyal to the Democratic Party because liberal politicians do not make them feel unwelcome if they disagree with individual aspects of the party’s platform.
The Republican Party, meanwhile, over the past few years has entered a period of internal purification. Many grassroots activists and party leaders have excluded voters who do not agree with every element of conservative orthodoxy or deemed these individuals to be “Republicans-In-Name-Only.” Rather than trying to find common ground with voters first, the conservative movement has instead attempted to begin the conversation by converting them on every issue.
As a result, many people feel that they must agree with 100% of the party platform in order to support the Republican Party, a standard too high for any political party to reach. In 2013, the College Republican National Committee released a report highlighting the party’s inability to attract young voters. According to a survey of independent, nonpartisan students, two of the words that most often came to mind when describing the Republican Party were “close-minded” and “rigid,” and the most common word that was said to least describe the GOP was “open-minded.”
While it is understandable to expect Republican candidates for office to reflect the party’s conservative philosophy, Republicans cannot win elections by only reaching out to voters who share that exact same mindset. In 2014, the Republican Party should adopt a new strategy of voter outreach: listen, don’t lecture. Candidates for office should meet voters where they currently are rather than trying to first change them into perfect, hard-line conservatives. Trying to convert independent voters to conservative ideology often proves ineffective because, as indicated by the study above, their impressions of Republicans are initially often very negative. Only after finding common ground with moderate voters and changing their perceptions of conservatism can the Republican Party successfully convert them on other issues.
This strategy could be used to win over much of the Democrats’ current coalition, which often does not agree with every element of liberal orthodoxy. For instance, on college campuses, libertarianism is a popular trend as many more students identify as fiscally conservative but socially liberal. Rather than lecturing those students about why they are wrong on social issues, the Republican Party should reach out to them on economic policy. Once those voters are incorporated into the conservative movement, they are more likely to become receptive to hearing arguments relating to other areas of conservative thought as well.
2. Develop alternative healthcare reforms to replace Obamacare.
In 2013, almost all Republican predictions for Obamacare came true. Contrary to the President’s repeated promises, his healthcare reform did force thousands of Americans to lose their existing insurance plans and doctors. Many businesses, unable to afford the excessive insurance mandates imposed by the Affordable Care Act, dropped employees entirely or transitioned them into part-time work. Indeed, according to a recent Gallup poll, 41 percent of small-business owners have frozen hiring while 19 percent have actually fired employees as a result of Obamacare. In addition, the capability of big government to handle major responsibilities, such as the leadership of this nation’s healthcare system, was brought into serious question by their inability to design a functioning website for the law’s rollout.
The Affordable Care Act has the potential to be a major liability for Senate Democrats seeking reelection in 2014. However, in order to maximize their political gains, Republicans must develop alternative plans to replace Obamacare once they assume control. Arguing against the President’s health care reforms will be much more effective when Republicans have their own, free-market reforms to compare it to (rather than having to compare the law to a previously unacceptable status-quo).
The current health care market is far from being a fully free-market system. In the place of Obamacare, Republican lawmakers should propose numerous changes aimed at increasing competition for consumers and lowering costs. Solutions could include eliminating unnecessary regulations, such as restrictions on selling insurance plans across state-lines, curbing wasteful spending and fraud in entitlement programs, like Medicare and Medicaid, and enacting malpractice reform to reduce frivolous lawsuits against doctors, the costs of which are borne by hospitals and their patients.
In addition, Republicans should promote health savings accounts, which could serve as a perfect foil to Obamacare. Unlike Obamacare, which reduces consumers’ choices by requiring their insurance plans to meet strict government standards, health savings accounts allow employees maximum flexibility over their own healthcare decisions even as they transfer from one job to another. Unlike Obamacare, which allows some individuals to rely on government subsidies for healthcare, health savings accounts encourage consumers to take more responsibility for the choices they make in the private market.
Although the House of Representatives has collectively voted almost 50 times to repeal Obamacare, Representative Tom Price (R-GA) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) have been working together to finally generate a coherent, Republican alternative: the Empowering Patients First Act. Hopefully, other Republicans will get behind this legislation and begin championing it to voters in 2014.
3. Reconsider the party’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
2013 was an extremely successful year for the gay rights movement. The Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and effectively invalidated California’s Proposition 8. Over the course of 2013, 10 new states began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In addition, according to Gallup polling, 2013 marked the first time when a consistent majority of Americans supported same-sex marriage. Most recent polling indicates that 54% of Americans support same-sex marriage, including over 70% of young voters between 18-29. Momentum in this country is clearly on the side of marriage equality for gay couples.
However, the Republican Party remains reluctant to follow this national momentum. House Republicans appointed a special legal team to defend DOMA when the White House declined to do so. After a federal district court declared Utah’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional, the state’s Republican governor and attorney general immediately vowed to appeal the ruling.
In 2014, the Republican Party would benefit from shedding its opposition to same-sex marriage and considering a complete reversal. Rather than forcing the Republican Party to abandon its conservative principles, this policy change would actually reinforce the party’s conservative foundation.
Republicans support marriage and believe that it should be defended because the institution encourages people to live a lifestyle in line with conservative values. For instance, by enabling two people to share resources, marriage makes couples more financially secure, thereby reducing their dependence on government. In addition, marriage binds people into permanent, monogamous relationships, reducing the sexual promiscuity that many social conservatives oppose. The benefits of marriage exist regardless of a couple’s sexual orientation, and therefore conservatives have an interest in ensuring that as many couples as possible enter the institution, whether heterosexual or homosexual.
In fact, same-sex couples are actually saving the institution of marriage by making it popular again. A 2011 study by the Pew Research Center found that only 51% of Americans were married, compared with 72% in 1960. Of that number, over 40% end in divorce. Therefore, the greatest threat to marriage is not the same-sex couples wishing to partake in the practice but the heterosexual couples opting out. Same-sex marriage could help reverse the downward trend in marriage rates among adults and make the institution seem more relevant in years to come.
Social conservatives contend that the marital institution is uniquely designed for raising children and, since gay couples cannot reproduce, that they cannot fulfill one of the central elements of the union. However, today there exist multiple other ways for same-sex couples to acquire offspring, such as in-vitro fertilization or adoption, and numerous studies have confirmed that gay parents are just as capable as heterosexual ones. Indeed, because same-sex couples disproportionately rely upon adoption in order to acquire children, they would make natural allies of the pro-life movement, which often stresses adoption as a viable alternative to abortion.
In addition to being an ideological victory for conservatives, endorsing same-sex marriage would be a political victory as well. Since marriage encourages people to live more conservative lifestyles, it also encourages them to vote that way. According to exit polling of the 2012 Presidential election, Mitt Romney’s share of married voters was 21% higher than his share of unmarried voters. The Republican Party is shooting itself in the foot by keeping people from entering into an institution that will likely make them more receptive to its political causes.
Republicans unfortunately are seen as being hostile and intolerant towards anyone viewed as “different” from them. By excluding same-sex couples from the institution of marriage, the Republican Party reinforces that stereotype and turns away other minorities who worry that they too may be excluded under conservative leadership. In order to achieve electoral success in 2014, this perception must be defeated, and accepting same-sex marriage is the perfect place to start.
4. Win elections.
Arguably, the most destructive political event for Republicans this year was the government shutdown for much of October. Although Obamacare’s disastrous rollout and failed promises subsequently legitimized many of the demands that Republicans had made during the shutdown (especially the offer to delay the plan for one year), the incident nevertheless resulted in weeks of unnecessary bad press for the party. In addition, nothing new was accomplished by the shutdown since the public was already well aware of Republicans’ opposition to the healthcare law, and conservative representatives had no need to prove their objections further.
Prior to the last government shutdown, Republicans were still mostly blamed for stalled budget negotiations and gridlock on Capitol Hill. Before Republican lawmakers can achieve any real progress towards repealing the President’s initiatives or reigning in wasteful government spending in 2014, they must first capture control of the United States Senate. In short, legislative gimmicks are getting on voters’ nerves, and Republicans have to start winning elections again.
While getting a veto-proof majority will be virtually impossible for Republicans following next year’s midterms, winning control of the Senate would give conservatives a mandate to enact many of their proposals. Plus, it would place President Obama in the precarious situation of having to use his veto pen often, thereby branding Democrats as obstructionist and setting Republican candidates up for success in 2016.
As of December 2013, among US Senate seats, there are at least 10 potential Republican pickup opportunities in the 2014 midterm elections that are either tossups or leaning red. Republicans only need 6 to regain control of the chamber. The party’s success in those races is contingent upon its ability to learn from past mistakes and adopt new strategies in 2014. Luckily, New Years is a chance for fresh beginnings!