While it sounds simplistic, in order to win in 2016, the Republican Party must define its objective. That objective is to win the White House. It is not to embrace ideological purity for the sake of itself. With its taking of the Senate, the Republican Party now has the chance to redefine itself — otherwise it may remain a foraging dinosaur lost in contemporary times.
The Republican Party needs to be a party of rigid principle: its first principle should be flexibility. The GOP has allowed itself to be viewed as the party of insular, middle-aged white men — ensconced in country clubs playing liar’s dice in plaid pants, waiting to tee off at twilight golf. Some in the party have shown a remarkable willingness to drive off the proverbial cliff with their flag fluttering, heads held high with self-esteem — all in the name of values. The GOP has inflicted much damage on itself by becoming labeled as anti-immigration, anti-women and minorities, anti-planet Earth, and anti-gays and lesbians. Many Republicans are hardly like this and are embarrassed by such an unwise, unyielding, and unsuccessful marketing message.
To win a presidential election, the GOP first needs to rein in a generation of leaders who polarize and have had their chance: Karl Rove, John McCain, Newt Gingrich, and Reince Priebus, the uncharismatic chairman of the Republican National Committee delude themselves by thinking they are the custodians of the party. A new generation of Republican leaders needs to be far more assertive. Among them are former Florida governor Jeb Bush, whose wife Columba is Mexican-born; Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Cuban-American from a community known for spirited entrepreneurship; Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who is not afraid to tell it like it is; former governor of Massachusetts and presidential candidate Mitt Romney who seems to be testing the waters; and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, now a professor at Stanford University and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution there.
Second, the Republican Party needs to develop a message of hope for the assimilation of immigrants, with a path to citizenship through employment, the English language as an enabler, and possibly some community service, coupled with control of the borders and enforcement of the law. Further, it needs to affirm the need to break through the so-called glass ceiling for women committed to careers and the workplace. Although the African American vote is very substantially aligned with the Democrats, some inroads could be decisive with a split electorate. African American leaders in the GOP can help remake the face of the party and modernize it. After all, Republican Tim Scott was just elected to the Senate from South Carolina, an historic event in the South.
Third, the Republicans need to command the agenda of national security. Leading from behind has been badly discredited, with forces of disarray the beneficiary when America is hesitant or not visible. An intrusive Russia yearning to project itself and test NATO, a modernizing Chinese navy with blue-water capability, and thousands of spinning Iranian centrifuges are a strategic challenge to the world order. Ambivalence toward projection of U.S. power by President Obama has only emboldened our adversaries. The fog surrounding Benghazi and the President’s dismissive attitude about ISIS have underscored the need for credibility and competency in threat assessment. A forceful commitment to national security by the GOP will resonate with the electorate, especially in view of the serial foreign policy failures by the Obama Administration.
Fourth, the GOP should stand for energy independence. While the U.S. will be engaged in the Middle East for geopolitical reasons for decades to come, reduced reliance on foreign oil sources will enhance national security and mitigate a significant part of the trade deficit, representing now over 30% as recently estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau. It will also reduce holdings of U.S. treasury securities by foreign central banks. Approval of the Keystone Pipeline should be another part of the GOP platform, unless that can be achieved in the coming months.
The GOP has two years to retool itself in the eyes of the American public and show that that it can lead the nation — and be more than a host of professional negativists. Sometimes it’s good to have an uncompromising ideology — but it’s better to win the White House.
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