Commentary Magazine


My GOP Advice

I see many of my friends and colleagues weighing in on the future of the Republican Party. David Brooks posits a battle between Traditionalists and Reformers. So does Pete Wehner, who argues that we need a balance between the two. Steve Hayes and Jennifer Rubin also fall into the “hybrid” camp.

For my part, I would join Pete Wehner in cautioning against an over-reaction to one electoral defeat. Sure, the future looks bleak for Republicans now. But no darker than the situation in 1992. Democrats, for their part, appeared to be in quite a hole after 2001 and 1980. In all cases, the party on the outs came back into office, often sooner than anyone expected, for the simple reason that the incumbent president always–always–commits mistakes and usually gets blamed for things that have gone wrong even when they are not necessarily his fault. There have been electoral backlashes against George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon . . . and on and on, back to the earliest days of the Republic. Rest assured, sooner or later, there will be a backlash against Obama too, and Republicans will naturally benefit (unless they are totally comatose).

That isn’t an argument against having arguments or trying to introduce new policies or ideas. The more intellectual ferment, the better. But I don’t think Republicans needs to panic or radically remake their platform.

One area where I do see some room for adjustment is on the issue of abortion. I am by no means suggesting that Republicans jettison their anti-abortion ideology, which would alienate the party’s base even if it might make the GOP more attractive on the coasts. What I am suggesting is that Republicans should not fear to nominate an otherwise attractive candidate who happens to be pro-choice. The insistence on abortion purity has cost the GOP during the past year. It was a major contributing factor to Rudy Giuliani’s crash and burn, since he has always been a pro-choicer, and a major factor, indirectly, in Mitt Romney’s downfall too, since he had to flip to the “pro-life” side before seeking the nomination, thus making him appear insincere. This issue also made it impossible for John McCain to pick either Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge as his vice presidential candidate–both men who were better qualified for the job than Sarah Palin and likely would have proven to be bigger draws for the independent voters McCain needed to win.

Does that make me a “Reformer”? I suppose I have been called worse things. But I am by no means suggesting radical change– more like radical tinkering.