Debate Club

The Republican Party Must Appeal to the Silent Majority

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The Republican Party must change its strategy, but it's not simply a matter of replicating President Barack Obama's campaign techniques, improving its technology and grass-roots organization, and coming up with better messaging. These are all important, but they're tactics, not strategies. For the GOP to become a long-term, viable governing coalition, it must execute a far more comprehensive, bottom-up reorganization that appeals to the silent majority: that large mass of voters who fall somewhere in the middle of the ideological scale.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal argues that the party must change the above, but not its principles. However, a successful strategy must start principles, and concisely answer the question: What does the party believe in? I suspect that if we were to poll Republicans, we'd get inconsistent answers to this question. Is it the party of social conservatives, the party of government efficiency, or more deeply, a party that bases its policies on innate American values: self-reliance, limited government, localism/states rights, independence, and others. It's the values focus that should be the driving force behind the GOP's soul searching.

The tactics outlined above, may even exacerbate the problems the GOP faces today, such as its difficulty with demographic targeting. This was certainly one of the main reasons why Mitt Romney lost. He had to come up with many different versions of his narrative to appeal to all the different groupings of Republican voters across the country. His message changed depending on his audience. He was a "severe conservative" for social conservatives, pro-low taxes and small government for establishment Republicans, pro-Tea Party for the Tea Party, and pro-wealth during his fundraising activities. This motley of messages restricted Romney's ability to move to the center during the general election: a fundamental requirement to win the White House. The Romney we saw during the 2012 campaign was nothing like the Romney that governed Massachusetts.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

If the party focused on revising its principles it would able to craft an attractive consistent message, and pursue policies in line with that message. There are a lot of moderate Democrats who say they're "fiscally conservative, but socially liberal." The GOP could pull them to their side, but in order to do that it must de-emphasize its somewhat lurid interest in controlling people's personal lives. It's this interest that has lead many Republican politicians to make inappropriate remarks about women, gays, African Americans, Hispanics, and others. This alienates the silent majority, and fundamentally makes them look like, for the lack of a better word, "jackasses." The lack of respectful dialogue does nothing to promote a healthy society. Its only fueled far right hatred, generated significant fan bases for Republican celebrities, and alienated a lot of people who would make good candidates. A good read of Emily Post's Etiquette, and George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior would help. The party' fiscal vision must also be more clearly articulated, and that vision must be differentiated from the Democrats'. It's not simply tinkering or augmenting the current status quo, but coming up with something new and innovative that will reduce government debt, increase jobs, and provide long-term financial opportunities to all Americans.

In short, it's principles, stupid. Get that right, and everything else will follow.

Jamie Chandler

About Jamie Chandler Political Scientist at Hunter College

Democratic Party
female voters
Republican Party
tea party
LGBT rights
Hispanic voters

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