Reel­ing con­ser­va­tives face ‘re­cal­i­bra­tion’ at their core

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY RALPH Z. HAL­LOW

Republicans found them­selves fac­ing ag­o­niz­ing day-af­ter ques­tions Nov. 7 that they ad­mit are nearly im­pos­si­ble to an­swer while try­ing to hold to­gether their di­verse elec­toral coali­tion and en­sure their sur­vival as Amer­ica’s con­ser­va­tive party.

In the wake of Mitt Rom­ney’s nar­row but de­ci­sive loss to Pres­i­dent Obama, top con­ser­va­tive strate­gists said the party will have to find lead­ers from a not very deep pool to help them ad­just to in­creas­ingly un­fa­vor­able de­mo­graphic trends and voter at­ti­tudes re­flect­ing more the live-and-let-live views of young peo­ple than the moral im­per­a­tives of an older gen­er­a­tion.

But that change must come with­out shat­ter­ing the elec­toral coali­tion of reli­gious, na­tional se­cu­rity and lib­er­tar­ian-minded con­ser­va­tives that has brought the party con­trol of the White House 20 of the past 32 years, said Penn­syl­va­nia Repub­li­can cam­paign ad­viser Char­lie Gerow.

“Con­ser­va­tives need to re­visit ev­ery­thing ex­cept the ba­sic for­mula, ‘Con­ser­va­tives — lib­er­tar­ian means for tra­di­tion­al­ist ends,’” said for­mer Rea­gan White House of­fi­cial Don­ald J. Devine, a Catholic who has strongly sup­ported tra­di­tional val­ues but also sees the im­por­tance of lib­er­tar­ian calls to ex­pand the realm of per­sonal free­dom.

Top party fig­ures frankly ad­mit­ted that last week’s re­sults called for a ma­jor in­ter­nal re­assess­ment. Sen. John Cornyn, the Texas Repub­li­can who headed the party’s Se­nate cam­paigns, said the stun­ning net loss of two seats for the party — most had expected the Republicans to add seats and per­haps even re­gain con­trol of the cham­ber — meant “we have a pe­riod of re­flec­tion and re­cal­i­bra­tion ahead.”

Vir­ginia Gov. Bob McDonnell noted the party’s strong show­ing in hold­ing 30 gov­er­nor­ships, but ad­mit­ted, “We have to do bet­ter.”

“It’s a com­bi­na­tion of tone and mes­sage and reach­ing out to new and mi­nor­ity vot­ers. It’s all those things,” Mr. McDonnell said on CNN.

Some said the party’s first pri­or­ity should be to re­build its in­ter­nal ma­chin­ery and match the re­cent Demo­cratic ef­fi­ciency in con­ceiv­ing, fi­nanc­ing and car­ry­ing out win­ning po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns.

“Un­til there is ac­count­abil­ity for the di­ver­sion of donor funds from the hard work of di­rect voter contact and per­sua­sion into use­less, but lu­cra­tive, me­dia buys, the GOP grass-roots in­fra­struc­ture will continue to crum­ble and the GOP may be old, but it won’t be grand,” said party elec­tion-laws lawyer Cleta Mitchell.

This year’s vot­ing pat­terns raised doubts about whether the party should heed the de­mands of the reli­gious con­ser­va­tives in the GOP coali­tion, long re­sented by more sec­u­lar con­ser­va­tives as well as by the party’s prag­ma­tists.

Vot­ers in four states ap­proved same-sex mar­riage, op­po­si­tion to which in pre­vi­ous cy­cles had helped Republicans spur turnout and win elec­tions in state af­ter state. Two states le­gal­ized recre­ational marijuana, and Mas­sachusetts be­came the 18th state to ap­prove its med­i­cal use, sug­gest­ing that the op­po­si­tion to drugs is los­ing its force as a uni­fy­ing power for the party’s var­i­ous fac­tions.

On for­eign pol­icy, an area in which polls said Pres­i­dent Obama held an edge over Mr. Rom­ney, Republicans also will have to come to grips with the grow­ing view within their ranks that, as for­mer Iowa Repub­li­can Chair­man Kayne Robin­son said, “we’ve taken this na­tion into too many silly wars at too much ex­pense and no rea­son to do it, and we should mind our own busi­ness more.”

Some in the party al­ready have be­gun vent­ing their long pent-up anger over what crit­ics called Mr. Rom­ney’s “im­pe­rial” can­di­dacy, a cam­paign that se­questered it­self in Bos­ton with a small co­terie of long­time Rom­ney as­so­ci­ates and a few re­li­able vet­eran party es­tab­lish­ment en­forcers, stiff-arm­ing any other Repub­li­can voices who sought ac­cess to the can­di­date.

The les­son, some in the party say, is never again should a party that claims to live by a bot­tom-up grass-roots con­ser­va­tive base let it­self be smoth­ered by a top-down lead­er­ship.

Evan­gel­i­cals, a main­stay in the con­ser­va­tive coali­tion that helped elect pre­vi­ous GOP can­di­dates such as Ron­ald Rea­gan and Ge­orge W. Bush, did not come out in the num­bers re­quired to put Mr. Rom­ney over the top in swing states this year.

The in­ter­nal blood­let­ting likely will force the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee to move its Jan­uary meet­ing to elect the party chair­man far away from Wash­ing­ton and its myr­iad con­sul­tants and in­ter­est-group pres­sures.

Some will blame RNC Chair­man Reince Priebus for the elec­toral set­back and de­mand that he be re­placed, pos­si­bly with a His­panic woman, de­spite the party’s long hos­til­ity to so-called iden­tity pol­i­tics as prac­ticed by Democrats. “In­ject­ing gen­der and eth­nic­ity into choos­ing our party’s lead­er­ship is dan­ger­ous be­cause, as con­ser­va­tives, we must judge peo­ple not on their sex and na­tional her­itage but on their val­ues, char­ac­ter, skills — in other words, their merit,” said Ore­gon Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee mem­ber Solomon Yue.

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