Can This Party Be Saved?

Why the GOP’s purists and pragmatists need to face the challenge of policy

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We Republicans cherish the free market. So now might be the right time to start listening to it. Our party has lost the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections. That is 20 years of “no, thanks” from the American people. Only basketball’s Washington Generals, who are paid to lose to the Harlem Globetrotters, can exceed that losing record, and by only four years (1971–95).

The worst error politicians can make is to spin themselves. It’s time for the GOP to face the hard truth, no matter how painful. The Republican brand is dying, many of our strategists are incompetent, and we still design campaigns to prevail in the America of 25 years ago.

Identifying the problem is easy. The Republican challenge is not about better voter-turnout software; it is about policy. We repel Latinos, the fastest-growing voter group in the country, with our nativist opposition to immigration reform that offers a path to citizenship. We repel younger voters, who are much more secular than their parents, with our opposition to same-sex marriage and our scolding tone on social issues. And we have lost much of our once solid connection to the middle class on kitchen-table economic issues.

A debate will now rage inside the GOP between the purists, who will as always call for more purity, and the pragmatists, who will demand modernization. The media, always culturally alien to intra-Republican struggles, will badly mislabel this contest as one between “moderate” and “right-wing” Republicans. In fact, the epic battle we Republicans face now is a choice between two definitions of conservatism.

One offers steadfast opposition to emerging social trends like multiculturalism and secularization. The alternative is a more secular and modernizing conservatism that eschews most social issues to focus on creating a wide-open opportunity society that promises greater economic freedom and the reform of government institutions like schools that are vital to upward social mobility.

The battle lines are already drawn. While the electoral arithmetic is obvious, teaching basic math to a political party is no simple matter. The lesson usually requires the heavy hammer of multiple crushing and painful election defeats. Whether the GOP has learned its lesson yet is the big question. The party’s biggest funders, mostly hardheaded business types, are in shock and high dudgeon after providing a virtual blank check to a GOP apparatus that promised much and delivered very little. Among this group, there is much frustration with the party’s perceived focus on divisive social issues and even some dark talk of a donor strike.

But in the precincts of movement and social conservatives, an opposite battle cry is sounding. In late November, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, whose tireless work to recruit unelectable GOP candidates in 2010 did more to help keep Harry Reid Senate majority leader than the work of any single Democrat, lobbed one of the first grenades. He denounced newly announced Republican Senate candidate Representative Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia as being ideologically unacceptable, despite the fact that Capito narrowly leads Democratic incumbent Jay Rockefeller in a poll of the prospective race.

Which points to another, often ignored, GOP weakness: Republicans tend to be more competitive in off-year elections, when voter turnout is far lower than in presidential years and the electorate is therefore older, whiter and more Republican. It is possible for the GOP to do well in 2014, especially because so many vulnerable Democratic Senators in GOP-leaning states face re-election. But like the Republican off-year successes of 2010, a few non-presidential-year victories, while welcome, would also provide the GOP with a highly misleading dead-cat bounce. The electorate in 2016 will look much like the electorate this year, albeit even more Hispanic and more challenging for the GOP. And the overall demographic trends that are burying the current Republican coalition will only become stronger with time.

How will this epic battle end? The struggles of the Democratic Party in its wilderness years from 1968 to 1992 provide two possible answers. Will the GOP, like the Democrats of 1992, find a path to pivot toward electability and the actual governing power that goes with it? Or will today’s Republicans act like the Democrats of 1972, who reacted to the defeat of Establishment favorite Hubert Humphrey in 1968 by nominating George McGovern, a purist candidate from its far left?

Senator DeMint, call your office. We Republicans might have to endure one more brutal lesson before we master America’s new political math. I hope not.

Murphy is a Republican consultant

261 comments
JimBalter
JimBalter

"Can This Party Be Saved?"

Let's hope not.

 "many of our strategists are incompetent"

Including yourself! Winning elections is not just a numbers game, it involves crafting and supporting policy that is good for the bulk of the voters and the nation as a whole ... about which you have nothing to say. What you fail to realize is that it is your core traits that make you incompetent ... read Chris Mooney's "The Republican Brain".

 "We Republicans cherish the free market."

 No, you cherish self-aggrandizement; "free market" rhetoric is just a tool.


"George McGovern, a purist candidate from its far left"

BWAHAHAH! Ooga booga, George McGovern was a commie! Well, no he was just against the war. You have no idea what the views of the "far left"  are (or were in 1972), you intellectual philistine.

YVRView
YVRView

GOP SurvivalMike Murphy's analysis was very gentle in "Can This Party Be Saved?" For a Republican Consultant to publicly offer constructive input after the fifth popular vote loss is better late than never. However, for realistic survival, GOP needs major heart and brain surgery to demonstrate that it sincerely cares for all citizens. Transformationmay require bitter medicine. Here is a starter list of Do's and Don'ts.

1. Stop lying & distorting facts to voters at-large, such as what is good for wealthy donors is good for the common middle class, the poor & the economy, such as continued tax breaks for the wealthy. Ifthat was the case, there wouldn't have have been economic collapse of 2008 when Bush tax breaks for wealthy were already in place.

2. Support policies that improve the health and education of all citizens. For a strong country, healthy competitive population is no less important than strong defense system.

3. Don't be trigger happy for every incident in the world, just because it may help the defense industry (donors). As if the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan haven't been enough to drain U.S. resources that new military engagements are needed in places such as Libya, Syria & Iran, etc. There is nothing wrong in redeploying some of those resources for Nation Building here at home.

4. Don't use "Religious Freedom" to suppress freedom for others, such as women's right to choose, etc.

5. Stop all acts of "Voter Suppression" and work on making it easier for all voters to vote.

6. Stand up to your masters (big donors) for what is good for the country. Don't be afraid. They can only give big money to produce false campaign ads to confuse & mislead the voters, but voters can't be fooled for ever.

7. Honor the Pledge to Serve the Country as The Patriotic Duty, over & above any pledge to any individual or special interest group.

8. Don't count upon low voter turnout in future off-year elections. It won't take long for the disadvantaged to figure out that they need be vigilant to keep others from harming them.

9. Stop articulating flawed message of "don't care". Demonstrate concern for people through transparency.

10. Don't think that two more years of lifeline until next elections is available for continuing pain inflection on jobless and other less fortunate by holding the country's economy hostage. Movements such as "Occupy Wall street" can turn into "Early Voter Recall" for obstructionists.

Party's survival is possible. But careful soul searching and rehaul has to be swift.

texasgalt
texasgalt

It could be Republicans might be more successful at presidential politics if they actually ran a conservative. 

Maxlyn
Maxlyn

Mr. Murphy is wasting his breath and electrons. The budget "debate" is a case in point. At least on the Repub side, it's not about not about any real budget numbers, it's not about reality at all. Likewith everything the Repubs promote, their policy is based on faith not facts. Part of that faith, not given enough attention by the media, is their deep seated, unreasoning conviction that Social Security and Medicare are unAmerican and evil. They want those programs completely gone, not just cut back. Sincethese programs are about half of the Fed's budget, the numbers would make sense in Repub world if they ever got what they really wanted and gutted them.

However, beyond the extreme wealthy and a relatively small number of true believers, there is scant political support for this course of action, so we have this farce in which the Repubs blither and blather all around the real  heart of the subject, their overwhelming desire to transform this country into apre-New Deal, third world oligarchy.

DrForbush
DrForbush

@MSalasBlair @murphymike The party can be saved if the GOP looks at facts instead of making crap up all the time and hoping that its true...

ClausGehner
ClausGehner

The spate of "introspective" columns by Republican pundits and columnists is amazing. Just today there was one by David Brooks in the NYT (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/07/opinion/brooks-the-republican-glasnost.html?ref=opinion).

As always, Brooks is so desperate for the light at the end of the tunnel, he actually saw something to be hopeful about (for the GOP, not for the country) in the recent speeches by Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan at the Jack Kemp Leadership Awards - talk about desperation. Mr. Douthat has a few interesting contributions to this "GOP revival" also (higher birth rates by fighting the "decadence" of wealthy nations, probably of the "47% of moochers")

Mr. Murphy is somewhat more pessimistic, but no less irrelevant. His assessment is that the GOP is in a battle between "purity" and "pragmatism". While that may be true (and very sad), the debate does not seem to include questions of what is actually good for the country, only what "the party" needs. The "purity" bunch could fit in very well with the current Egyptian leadership's "Muslim Brotherhood", which supposedly has a direct link to "God" and sees itself as the "saviors" of the "true faith". Jim DeMint going off in a huff after even the GOP's defeat of the UN Resolution on Rights of Disabled was not "pure" enough, is an interesting example.

The "pragmatists", on the other hand, the group which Mr. Murphy, not surprisingly favors, is all about "wining", changing the "message" to appeal to more voters. Again, what is missing here is some thought about what the country might need. Is it perhaps "wrong" and bad for the country to force a large group of people (illegal immigrants) to be kept in a status of virtual slavery by not allowing them some sort of legal status, and even worse, are the Republicans satisfying the demands of their financial overlords for cheap and unprotected labor in this regard?

Its all about "strategy" for these ultimate parasites of the American democratic system, the political consultants. Its only about "find[ing] a path to pivot toward electability" rather than a period of introspection to try and (finally) understand what the problems are and come up with policy suggestions to solve those problems...

suepap
suepap

I was stunned to read Mike Murphy's Time Magazine "Murphy's Law" column recently that asked "Can This Party Be Saved?"  HE'S the most respected Republican consultant?  Wow, this really brings home how out of touch they are and why they lost and will continue to lose, especially in the upcoming mid-terms.  He cited same sex marriage and immigration reform as reasons for losing the general election but NO WHERE in the column did he mention women!  10 million more women than men vote in the general election.  There was a 9 - 11 percent gender gap for President Obama, depending on the state.   Women made sure he was elected.  Unbelievable that he didn't even mention one issue that is a very hot button for women.  The fight against birth control coverage, the closings and attempts to close Planned Parenthood clinics which is the only place millions of women can get reproductive health care and well women check ups, the refusal of the GOP to vote for the Violence Against Women Act and equal pay and actually repealing equal pay laws.  I live in Ohio and the GOP here had a bill that is the most restrictive choice bill in the nation.  They shelved it but promise to bring it back.  It makes DNC's impossible after only a few weeks of pregnancy meaning that innocent young mothers will die of massive infection if they miscarry.  Gov . Kasich here appointed a lobbyist with no medical background to the Ohio State Medical Board.   Birth control is MEDICINE for serious conditions for 18% of women who take it.  Being able to plan and space out pregnancies plays a major role in our health, well being, and financial stability.  Make no mistake, that it's the women who will do in the GOP, and rightfully so.  We are watching.   That he's their leading strategist and didn't even mention women's issues in his piece makes me absolutely certain that they will continue to lose elections, seats and power.

paulfsimpson
paulfsimpson

You reveal the core flaw in your analysis: you identify as the crucial concern whether Republicans will "pivot toward electability and the actual governing power that goes with it?" So, like most consultants, you see power as the only thing that matters. Well, money, too -- especially for consultants. But you presumably figure money will flow from all that power."A party that elects no one is irrelevant. A party that advances no principles is meaningless."--- Harris ConservativesInAction Grassroots Manifesto

zbest
zbest

The core Republican philosophy is "Freedom and opportunity for everyone."  This contrasts well the core democratic philosophy of "Higher taxes and more government services".  The Republican party would have no problem selling this philosophy to many diverse groups if only their actions and policies would reflect their philosophy.  They need to repeat these five words to themselves over and over and critically review their policy actions to see how they conform.

Flash789
Flash789

Simple thought on the Popular Vote: we've never had one. Raw vote totals in an Electoral College election are merely interesting talking points in our current voting process. We will only know a true popular vote result when we discard the antiquated Electoral College and actually have a Popular Vote election. I know conservatives and liberals in Texas who don't vote because the Texas EC result is (lately anyway) a given win for the Republicans. These people would certainly have a different attitude if they knew their vote would count towards a national total. It's not just that the EC effectively disenfrachises voters for the losing side in a state, but it also de-motivates certain members aligned with the winning side. Also, with a Popular Vote election, maybe some of that $2 billion of campaign ads would be spread around outside of the few current battleground states to influence voters elsewhere.

damnmacmail
damnmacmail

NOV 2010 was a knee jerk.  History says opposing party should  have won POTUS in bad economy in 2012. Romney added Ryan and that ship sunk.  The Ryan Plan and their directions could lead to a one religion corporate dominated 2 class USA.  Do we really want to look more like the religious or other  power concentrated for one group govts? NO. The majority of USA voted NO to that in Nov 2012.  Gop needs to stop letting the tail wag the dog.

haury71
haury71

I have voted as a conservative Republican for many years while doing blue collar work and being what I have considered a middle class family.  I am ready to withdraw from the Republican party, but not interested in joining the Democratic party either.  I am a white male, so my bone of contention has to do with the view of the "middle class" by the wealthy people running for office under Republican ideals.  I used to believe in the trickle-down theory, but have come to see that greed is what drives them.

BillPearlman
BillPearlman

It's demographics. The democratic candidate starts out with the minority vote. They don't even need a pulse for that one. Throw in woman who are conviced that abortion is going to be outlawed after 40 odd years, idiot college kids who think that gay marriage is the paramount issue of our time. Guilt ridden white liberals. 70% of my fellow idiot Jews. And there is no way a Republican conservative candidate can win a national election. We are on our way to one party liberal democratic rule. In other words Greece and Spain. Should be a blast.

SusanneIna
SusanneIna

I am a Christian, white, female, former Republican who has not missed an election since registering to vote at age 21.  I am a former Republican, but not yet a Democrat, because I believe the Republican party has changed to the point that I cannot support it, except in some local elections. At one point, about 30 years ago, I was upset enough about "something" that I wrote (USPS) every one of my representatives. Several never replied. Of those who did, only one replied on the same subject! While he didn't  agree with me, he was then the only one of those representatives who ever again got my vote.  

I believe that the Republican party has been hijacked.  

zoso0420
zoso0420

Of course.  Most people understand the Obama giveaway just isn't sustainable.

JohnYuEsq
JohnYuEsq

The GOP is DESTROYED.  Finished.  Done.

mrivera1119
mrivera1119

The problem is that the Republicans refuse to come to terms with certain facts such as: 1. this is the 21 century 2. women must be treated with respect 3. we Latinos can be smart and successful and not all of us have immigration issues. 4. Education must be a priority for all 5. we believe in throwing a lifeline to people in need. 6. we are not all religious fanatics  7. you must not try to impose your values  to all as if they were the law of the land. 8. you msut not preach what you have no intention of practicing 9. gays are born, not made 10. you cannot legislate my body. PS. Limbaugh, Norquist, Rove and company are destroying  the party from within

JohnYuEsq
JohnYuEsq

THROW the OBSTRUCTIONIST Repub BUMS OUT!

In the next Mid-Term Election VOTE the DEMOCRATIC TICKET!

wrathbrow
wrathbrow

I used to be a republican and voted so often. The problem is that more GOP members are running based on their personal beliefs and anger at those that don't share their beliefs AND (this is the deal breaker for many people) want to make laws that enforce those beliefs on others. Other members of the party criticize members that try to avoid that. It is in a way another form of McCarthyism.

walkman1956
walkman1956

In it's current form? No. Too many whack-jobs,cluless old white men,and so far out of touch with reality it will take years and elections to rid it of the current rust that infests it.They don't learn either. Just look at the committee leaders  they just appointed-----all white men and no women. Enough said.

Mikzy
Mikzy

There is nothing wrong with a more liberalized economy. If we're still achieving similar growth rates, despite whatever policies we have that are "socialist". There is no reason the Republican party has to be stalwartly against that. Rather than campaigning towards a diminishing electorate they should open the party up to new members that aren't white and male. Let's be real, the GOP is the last white strangle hold on a nation that no longer exist. And there is nothing wrong with representing an aging and whiter demographic, but if they want to maintain any semblance of power, the GOP with have to yield it, substantively, to other constituencies. There can't be token holders of "power" like J.C Watts or that Pizza guy whose names escapes me at the moment. Bring Asians into the party, and even blacks. African Americans are very socially conservative but have been pushed into the democratic party because of Republican tactics to create a coalition that opposed their needs. I happen to be in favor of many conservative ideas because they, simply, make sense to me. But I'm unwilling to vote for a ticket that is more about sanctimony and style than it is about substance.

mary.waterton
mary.waterton

The secret to winning elections nowadays is to promise to give away free stuff. Americans want free healthcare, free housing, free food, free education, etc, etc, etc. And it always helps to campaign on "taxing the rich", even though you don't mean a word of it.

Once the election is over you can indeed pass some legislation that "taxes the rich", but with enough loopholes to ensure that your rich campaign contributors never actually pay a penny more. When the bills for the free stuff arrive, just add it to the national debt. It worked fabulously for the democrats in 2008 and 2012, and it might just work for the republicans in 2016.

lheal
lheal

@keder "highly misleading dead-cat bounce." Strike three.

lheal
lheal

@keder "Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, whose tireless work to recruit unelectable GOP candidates in 2010" Strike two.

lheal
lheal

@keder "with our nativist opposition to immigration reform that offers a path to citizenship." Strike one.

lheal
lheal

@keder Guy's an idiot.

paulejb
paulejb

Change the name of the party to Santa's Elves. That should appeal to the 51% who voted for Barack Obama.

BobAwful
BobAwful

@texasgalt No, actually the whole point of the article was that the more that this approach has been taken, the further marginalized the party becomes. You people have just been so indoctrinated by the Becks and Limbaughs that you can't see the forest for the trees. It's pretty hilarious to those of us on the left. You guys are obsolete. You won't win any more large elections in our lifetime.

MSalasBlair
MSalasBlair

@drforbush Yep I've been saying things for yrs exactly what @murphymike said plus a lot more. Botched math+non expert 'experts' for starters

JimBalter
JimBalter

@zbest You just keep thinking those are the core philosophies of the parties and the Dems will keep winning elections in the real world.

BobAwful
BobAwful

@zbest Oh, and also if the outcome of those policies wasn't complete economic devastation.

goodgenie4u
goodgenie4u

@zbest I agree entirely with your prescription. The challenge is that the Republican leadership does not belive in diversity.  I was always told no point getting an education unless there is a need for performance. The Republicans need to be halled to a boot camp program on "diversity means they are equal to us" training and fed on boxed or denatured foods in a cafetaria. It's time they realize their faeces stink just like the hyphenated Americans living on the other side of the track.

There is no dirth of Latino, Asian or African American professors and social workers to teach this course.

BobAwful
BobAwful

@haury71 The crux of the problem is that they've been selling you guys a bill of good on economic policy for thirty years. We may disagree on the wedge issues (abortion, gay marriage, etc.) and hey, if that's the argument we need to have, then good. But the economic message they've been selling is just factually false, and has been proven to be so. Tax cuts don;t pay for themselves. Period. You either get rid of Social Security and Medicare and have low taxes, or you have higher taxes and better services. And we all know the people will never vote away SSI and Medicare. So in the meantime, we get revenue shortfalls and huge deficits. It's criminal.

Good for you for having the guts to recognize the lie. I'm a former Republican and it took me a long time to stop making excuses. (I've always been for more civil freedom anyway, so maybe that made it easier to quit them. All of the obvious hate and bigotry was a huge minus for me.)

damnmacmail
damnmacmail

@haury71 The only thing that trickles down is brown,  and comes from a bull.  Moderation is the key to all things. 

JimBalter
JimBalter

@BillPearlman "It's demographics."

Yes, Bill, it's stupid, ignorant, angry white men vs. everyone else.  You lose.

BobAwful
BobAwful

@BillPearlman I guess you don't realize that Greece and Spain were about an inability to devalue currency across labor markets. Par for the course for tea partiers. Low information, high gut response, low win ratio.

damnmacmail
damnmacmail

@BillPearlman  Greece embraced the Ryan plan ideals of austerity, did they not? College kids on campus seem to be most worried about education and career. Women worry about the horrific recent comments on rape and  fundamentalist religion(s) trying to re-gain control of freedoms and choices and even what books we can read.  Gay and lesbian service members and civilians worry about rights their children and  how the legalities effect finances. Bullying and other increased violence  seems to be a big issue. Vets are 20% of homeless and more  survive the war and come home to die of pain or hopelessness via suicide ?   We over over 3Billion a year to Israel  and i read that 75% comes back to our defense industry to make weapons so we must promote aggression not peace to have some  profit off those taxpayer dollars?  The same people  that support fundamentalist values and aggression/expansionist rule in Israel oppose it in Muslims ? PS: Progressives on the left of Dems see Obama as too moderate. 

NickBulka
NickBulka

@BillPearlman ,  you have demonstrated why the GOP is on the decline.  Name-calling, outdated stereotypes,  denegrating anyone who doesn't share your views.  It ain't demographics, my friend.  It's bigotry, hate, jingoism, and obstructionism that is causing the death of the GOP.

BobAwful
BobAwful

@SusanneIna Wait, you voted for someone that you didn't agree with on policy just because he responded? That's a strange way to vote.

BobAwful
BobAwful

@zoso0420 Hahaha. Spending increases are at their lowest in twenty years. Bush gave away about five times as much during his tenure. this is why you people don't win. You tell each other lies, and only old white people with no ability to check facts believe them. You're done. Toast. Can. Not. Win. Give up, throw in the towel. We're driving this thing now.

goodgenie4u
goodgenie4u

@walkman1956 

American citizens are hypenated when what they need is to be integrated. The GOP deeply believes that white Americans need to run this country and they need to be fundamental Christians. The rest are supposed to live on meagre education, jobs and over indulge in cheap denatured foods and of course shop till you drop, I think Bush suggested the latter on 9/11 that Americans should not stop to mourn; but get out and shop.

When less is more and quality is substituted for quality as notions to be proud off, that is when the economy will boom. The ultra rich make you want what you do not need. That explains the debt crisis.

womenspk
womenspk

@mary.waterton  Still believe all that garbage the GOP and friends fed everyone, I see.  You know very little about the American people, the citizen/job ratio, income inequality,  the real causes of the financial crisis, WHO supported those causes, the great need for healthcare and who's outsourced more jobs than imaginable.  Out of 150 countries, only 4 are ahead of us in  income inequality. That's pathetic for this great nation.

The American doesn't expect FREE anything. Many  would love their middle class job back, the family sustaining salary, retirement and health care plans. But those are gone, thanks to the Republicans who found new, inventive ways to crush the unions. There are millions working at minimum wage who are forced to supplement with food stamps.  Those advocating cutting the social programs are those who created such a great need for them.  You're insulting millions who are forced to accept assistance.

Free stuff?  No such thing. Those who've been systematically robbing this country for decades are soon to discover they too have to pay the price.   Wall Street is owned by ALL Americans. CEO's do not run this country, nor can they buy an office for their politician. That notion's just been completely knocked right out of the ring. 

WE THE PEOPLE voted. We spoke. Here's what's no longer free: our jobs, our freedoms, the American Dream, our vote, loyalty and trust, simply because the elitist GOP says so. . As a female, MY personal rights are my own. Those have no price tag.

It's not about just taxing the rich by letting the Bush tax cuts end. It's It's about those same people paying a higher rate than the average American. And those loop holes and deductions? Not happening. 

Mary, have a good day. It's free.

BobAwful
BobAwful

@lheal And that's why you'll not win another presidency in your lifetime, and you'll be dealing with majorities in the senate and house more often than not. Your time is done. Hang up your hat. give up or look like a sore loser.

BobAwful
BobAwful

@paulejb Ah, a great example of the intelligent, wry humor of the American Conservative.

Good thing your policy initiatives are as tone-deaf as your humor. You don't understand anything except your own entitled grievances. You're done.

Dani
Dani

lol!  That's all ya got?  It's tired and lame and definitely not true.  More people on welfare and food stamps in red states than blue states! But don't let facts get in the way. 

drudown
drudown

@paulejb 

That's unfounded considering Red States take more freebies than Blue States. 

Tell me, weren't you a staunch supporter of Bush and his "outsourcing" agenda? Now, of course, all those US blue collar workers have no jobs, which is exacerbated by the republicans' Big Business campaign contributors not desiring an actual border (need that Lower Price Labor Force with no labor laws!). Your pathetic quips just underscore how out of touch your party is. Nice job on the Beghazi red herring. It just underscores how incompetent Obama's predecessor was by failing to protect the city of NY before 9/11. 

SusanneIna
SusanneIna

@BobAwful @SusanneIna  Sure did - At least he was smart enough to hire people who could read. And, while I did not agree on that subject, there were other things we saw much the same way.