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Michael Gerson's op-ed column on the GOP's strategic failure
WASHINGTON--Recent brutal attacks on the GOP have claimed that minorities often think that "Republicans do not like them or want them in the country." That younger voters are "rolling their eyes at what the party represents." That former Republicans view the party as "scary," "narrow-minded," "out of touch," and populated by "stuffy old men."
But these were not Democratic attacks. The quotes come from the Republican National Committee's "Growth & Opportunity Report," which, as far as I can tell, is unique in the history of party-sponsored self-reflection. Losing parties generally look in the mirror and see the need for cosmetics. This report calls for reconstructive surgery. In the aftermath of the 2012 election, it describes a party unpopular with the public, fading in must-win states, and progressively marginalized at the national level.
Yet this analysis should be encouraging for Republicans in the same way that a reliable medical diagnosis is encouraging--it provides the basis for aggressive treatment.
The report, inevitably, set off an internal GOP conflict. This is not so much a matter of ideology; a number of politicians with Tea Party roots, such as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, have fully internalized these political realities. The emerging argument is between political realists and ideological entrepreneurs.
All conservatives believe in the power of markets, which is explanatory in this case. The RNC is attempting to reach the market of gettable voters in Ohio, Colorado, New Mexico, and other electorally strategic places. Other conservatives target the markets of talk radio listeners or CPAC attendees. The RNC report engages this divergence of purposes in a forthright manner: "We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue." The role of a political party, the report insists, is different from the pursuit of "universal purity."