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Republican Reconciliation or Irrelevance?

Reconcile the Republican Party & Republican Voters

By Josh First

December 11, 2012

Things are not all good here in Republican land. Mitt Romney received fewer votes than John McCain received in 2008, even as attack dog Obama also received far fewer votes than his all-positive 2008 campaign. Despite Obama’s catastrophic economy, foreign policy failures (Benghazi), gaffes (“You didn’t build that”), corruption (Solyndra), and bizarre running mate (Biden), Republican enthusiasm for Romney was actually lower than Republican enthusiasm of four years ago. So even with all that was on the line, Republican voters were unwilling to go to the polls.

Recriminations abound about what caused Mitt Romney to lose: Incompetent staffers, inaccurate polling, a prolonged primary, poor ground game by complacent Republicans, uninspiring and flaccid moderate Republican, etc. Rather than re-hashing excuses and assigning blame, here’s one thing we can change for the next big race: Fixing the increasingly broken relationship between many Republican voters and the Republican Party establishment that is becoming an open contest.

The Republican Party ‘establishment’ includes the careerist elected officials, party bureaucrats, pollsters, financers, lobbyists, apparatchiks, consultants, and other functionaries and rock star groupies whose often low-risk, insulated careers and financial interests comprise the don’t-rock-the-boat wing. Registered Republican voters and principle-driven tea party activists, the “grass roots,” are not necessarily included in this group.

Because the Republican Party here is run as an enterprise, this contest has been cast as profit vs. principle. The Tea Party emerged from Central Pennsylvania, as fiscally conservative voters increasingly demanded responsible habits by the Republicans they had volunteered for, contributed to, and voted for, and across Pennsylvania and the nation it’s rapidly becoming a battle between them and the Party establishment, forget the Democrats.

Hitting the nail on the head back in February, Lehigh University professor Frank Davis said “There seems to be a struggle within the Republican Party between the traditional leadership and the conservative grass roots individuals and groups that are probably more mobilized now than they were a few years ago….the Republican Party has used these grass roots individuals to further the party establishment’s interests, and I think these people may want to [now] choose their own representatives, rather than rely on the leadership.”

Running a gazillionaire for president during the worst economy in 70 years, where his wealth contrasted with citizens’ daily reality, made sense early to the Party establishment, which was long ago greasing the skids for Romney staffers into county Party offices well before the primaries ended. Sure, I like Romney, admire his business acumen, donated to his campaign, went door to door for him, blogged for him, and voted for him. But someone more blue collar, more authentic is going to be more believable, more welcomed by Middle America.

Republican grass roots candidates lost several recent US Senate races, which establishment candidates would have had no greater chance of winning, but the establishment demanded they step aside. Here in Pennsylvania, candidates hand-picked by Republican Party leaders were also disastrous failures, from the primary to last month’s general election. These candidates made perfect sense to insiders. But when trotted out into the public venue, voters shot these perfect candidates down in flames. Does either camp have a corner on the market?

The onus for reconciling the two groups is fully on the Republican Party establishment; the “professionals.” Many Republican Party leaders have engaged in high-handed, controlling behavior that has alienated a growing number of registered Republicans, even the most dedicated. Republican voters and volunteers have been treated as wind-up toy soldiers, turned in a direction and told to march. Party intervention in primary races is one of the worst abuses. No matter how much the establishment may want Yes men to support the establishment’s intertwined political and business interests, the cost of alienating the base is too high. If the Party stays out of primaries and gives the people a voice, they’ll be rewarded with more inspired voters, more volunteers on the ground, more elections won.

The professional class of Republicans say they know what they are doing and everyone just needs to move out of their way and let them do their job. Maybe it’s true that the new grass roots activists lack credentials, but the professional class suffers from an inspiration gap, often pushing bland, plain vanilla, pre-fabricated, cookie cutter candidates who are “supposed” to win, but who fail after spectacularly expensive investments. The Republican Party does actually need Republican voters to get their candidates across the goal line, so will the Party leaders listen to the Party voters? For good reason, Democrat analyst Patrick Caddell recently asked “Can the Republican Party Avoid the Fate of the Whigs?”

Let us get an honest answer here: Is there sufficient humility among our Party leaders to learn from these mistakes, to look inside themselves, and take the necessary steps to reconcile?

If Republicans want to win elections, they need to be the Party of Opportunity, allowing the more conservative, independent-minded members to have a shot at full participation. If we are all in this together, then let’s start acting like it. Otherwise, factionalism and political irrelevance are staring us in the face.

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