There is, quite rightly, a lot of soul searching going on in the Republican Party at the moment. In the aftermath of losing one of the most winnable elections in modern history, there is a growing consensus that things need to change. Recognising this reality is not enough. Real change means taking action; it means making genuinely difficult decisions; it means breaking away from the past and planning for the future.
The ever brilliant Mike Gerson and Peter Wehner have written a superb essay on the future of the Republican Party. It contains so much good content that to share the highlights would be to run the risk of cutting and pasting the entire article.
Gerson and Wehner start by suggesting that the modern Republican Party should learn from both Bill Clinton and Tony Blair – two men who reversed the declining fortunes of their respective political parties by taking on some of the most deeply-rooted, politically-toxic issues that had prevailed for many years – and winning.
They go on to propose changes in policy as well as in the way in which the key messages are communicated. They put it far more eloquently than this, but sub-text is that the Republican Party needs to shake-off the image of being the anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-government Party of the rich.
The analysis of what has gone wrong within the Party is both frank and honest. They describe last year’s Presidential election as “not only a dismal showing for the Republicans but the continuation of a dismal, 20-year trend.” Ouch.
On the need to modernise, they state:
“Republicans, in short, have a winning message for an electorate that no longer exists.”
“It is no wonder that Republican policies can seem stale; they are very nearly identical to those offered up by the party more than 30 years ago.”
I’ll end with a longer section on the issue of marriage, which highlights the failure among conservatives to grapple adequately with the issue. Although written for the American context, the same sentiments can be applied for the UK context. I agree wholeheartedly with their analysis:
“Addressing the issue of marriage and family is not optional; it is essential. Far from being a strictly private matter, the collapse of the marriage culture in America has profound public ramifications, affecting everything from welfare and education to crime, income inequality, social mobility, and the size of the state. Yet few public or political figures are even willing to acknowledge that this collapse is happening.
For various reasons, the issue of gay marriage is now front and center in the public consciousness. Republicans for the most part oppose same-sex marriage out of deference to traditional family structures. In large parts of America, and among the largest portion of a rising generation, this appears to be a losing battle. In the meantime, the fact remains that our marriage culture began to disintegrate long before a single court or a single state approved gay marriage. It is heterosexuals, not homosexuals, who have made a hash out of marriage, and when it comes to strengthening an institution in crisis, Republicans need to have something useful to offer. The advance of gay marriage does not release them from their responsibilities to help fortify that institution and speak out confidently on the full array of family-related issues. Republicans need to make their own inner peace with working with those who both support gay marriage and are committed to strengthening the institution of marriage.
Yes, the ability of government to shape attitudes and practices regarding family life is very limited. But a critical first step is to be clear and consistent about the importance of marriage itself—as the best institution ever devised when it comes to raising children, the single best path to a life out of poverty, and something that needs to be reinforced rather than undermined by society.
Other steps then follow: correcting the mistreatment of parents in our tax code by significantly increasing the child tax credit; eliminating various marriage penalties and harmful incentives for poor and for unwed mothers; evaluating state and local marriage-promotion programs and supporting those that work; informally encouraging Hollywood to help shape positive attitudes toward marriage and parenthood. There may be no single, easy solution, but that is not a reason for silence on the issue of strengthening and protecting the family.”