Memo to GOP: Stay the Course

Backing down from its position on abortion and taxes will not revive the Republican Party.

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Sen. John McCain at his last rally in Virginia.
Sen. John McCain at his last rally in Virginia.

Still reeling from its surprising loss in the 2012 presidential election, Republicans of all stripes are coming forward with "new" ideas to restore the party to electoral success.

The latest is Arizona Sen. John McCain who, displaying the same political acumen that allowed him to win the White House in 2008, suggests the party take a break from the issue of abortion.

"I think we have to have a bigger tent," McCain told Fox News's Chris Wallace, before going on to tick off a set of issues on which, apparently, the Arizona Republican feels the GOP needs to change its stance.

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

"There is no doubt whatsoever that the demographics are not on our side. And, we are going to have to give a much more positive agenda. It can't be just being against the Democrats, and against Harry Reid and against Obama," he continued. "You have to be for things, and we have to give them something like the Contract with America, that we gave them some years ago. We have to give them something to be for."

On that point McCain is right, as far as it goes. Unfortunately he continues on, suggesting on abortion that the Republicans need to "leave the issue alone when we are in the kind of economic situation and, frankly, national security situation we're in."

This is, to be plain, bad political advice. Not only are single issue voters more likely, by a few points, to hold the pro-life position rather than support abortion rights, the issue is critically important to the conservative Christian and Catholic voters who are the GOP's most reliable voter bloc.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

No Republican, McCain and others should be reminded, has lost an election as a result of the abortion issue. There are those who have been beaten because they do not know how to explain what they believe to the larger electorate without tripping all over themselves. Moreover, there is more room for divergent points of view on the issue in the GOP than there is between Democrats. Who among them on the national stage, for example, has in recent years put the life issue before the interests of the party when it really counted? Did any of the so-called pro-life Democratic senators vote against the passage of Obamacare because of the mandate that all institutions, including religious ones, offer health insurance that includes coverage for abortion, sterilization and abortifacients? My vote count says "No."

It's not just on abortion though that some Republicans are misreading the results of the election. Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and South Carolina's Sen. Lindsey Graham are wavering on the tax issue as is Sen. Bob Corker, who managed to get all the way through a successful re-election bid this year without bothering to mention he had changed his mind on his pledge to the voters of Tennessee that he would vote against efforts to increase marginal tax rates.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Catholic and Other Religious Institutions Have to Cover Birth Control?]

So far the revisers who want to blunt the party's conservatism are getting all the attention. No wonder. It's in the best interests of media liberals to pretend there is significant discord in the ranks of the GOP and to further sow that discord wherever and whenever possible. Those who are standing fast, like House Speaker John Boehner—now the nominal national leader of the Republican Party—are right to stay the course. Conservatism works. Reagan roved it. Gingrich proved it. Boehner is proving it even now. Being more like the other guy is not a recipe for success—unless your definition of success on these issues it to reduce the GOP to the pale imitation it was of the Democrats in the years after World War II up until the Carter years, when real change brought real success.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List and one of the more clever of the right's political leaders, spent much of Tuesday reminding people that, in the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." It would be a mistake for the Republican leadership to let these words go unheeded. What is needed now is a strong affirmation of conservative principles and clear explanations of how and why they work in practice, unlike the ivory tower liberalism practiced by Barack Obama and his cohorts. If there was a failure in the Republicans' just concluded campaign it was to explain just how the lives of the average American would be better off after four years of a Mitt Romney presidency. Romney talked about it, in generalities, but could not provide the specifics needed to prove to the voters he cared that he had their best interests at heart—which left him vulnerable to Obama's attacks which, ultimately, went unanswered.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

Senior Romney aides would likely dispute this contention; indeed, it's their job to do so. Nevertheless, moving forward, the most important thing is to recraft the conservative agenda along the lines of first principles, smaller government, economic growth, the protection of life and liberty, and personal freedom.

Senators McCain, Chambliss, Graham, and Corker take note: There are plenty of reasons why the Republicans did not do better in 2012; the fact that the GOP is the party of life and lower taxes are not among them.

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