Ben Harris 

Naked Politics Blogger

It’s no secret that the Republican Party is in a bit of a mess. Despite almost 8 years out of the White House it appears no more capable of effectively challenging presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton than it did Obama 4 years ago. Despite poor favourability ratings and her struggle to decisively win her own primary, Clinton would likely comfortably beat both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in the upcoming presidential election.  Among large sections of the American electorate the party is seen as too uncompromising and bereft of its own vision. There is now a real prospect that the Republicans could find themselves shut out of the White House for a generation.

Despite the title, this article is not meant to be an advocacy of Trump-ism. On the contrary, the kind of politics that is typified by Donald Trump is a one-way ticket to electoral oblivion. Since the 2008 election when the moderate John McCain was well-beaten by Obama, large sections of the Republican Party have been slowly sliding further away from the centre of American political opinion and towards a political cul-de-sac of nativism, protectionism and evangelicalism. It has boisterously opposed the Obama administration at every turn and although this is indeed a healthy part of democracy, it has been unable to set out clear alternatives and instead has relied on opposition for opposition’s sake.

The Republican Party is in dire need of modernisation. Contrary to what hardliners would claim, modernisation doesn’t mean throwing out principles and replacing them with bland centrism. It can lead to that, but it doesn’t have to. What is needed is a revaluation of priorities and a more positive approach. Thus, the Republicans shouldn’t drop their opposition to unrestricted abortion for example but at the same time they must not let these kinds of social issues constantly take centre stage. Despite what some would claim, it is not a bad thing that many Republicans are deeply religious. The problem arises when attempts are made to impose those religious beliefs upon the rest of the country. This is a feature of Republicans like Ted Cruz and although it has been key to winning a certain type of voter, it is also off-putting to many others.

If the Republicans are to appeal across demographics like they did under Reagan, a bigger focus needs to be placed on issues such as the economy and security. Similarly, a less hard-line approach on immigration needs to be adopted. There are already a number of Republicans for which this is the case but they are all currently being drowned out by Trump who is not only a hardliner on immigration but has also made a number of disparaging remarks about Mexicans. In 2004 Bush received 40% of the Hispanic vote whereas in 2012 Mitt Romney managed to get just 27%. Even if Trump does not get the Republican nomination, his poisonous rhetoric is likely to net the Republicans an even lower share of the Hispanic vote.

Modernising the Republican Party will not be easy. Trump and Cruz have tapped into an angry grassroots and it would be wrong to just dismiss their concerns and beliefs out of hand. However, if the Republicans are to ever take back the White House, and hold on to Congress they need to change their approach. This means not only a more moderate approach to social issues, but also more of a willingness to put forward a vision based on ideas rather than anger and just as importantly, more willingness to compromise.

Undoubtedly, a more moderate Republican Party would alienate some of its core voters. However, it would also gain many independents who view the current Republican Party as too extreme. The good news is that there are already a number of more moderate, compromising voices in the party that can guide it forward and away from Trump-ism such as Marco Rubio, John Kasich and even Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. The bad news is that to capture the leadership, any moderniser will have to get past the very conservative Republican base. In this writer’s opinion, Hillary Clinton would make a poor president. The Democrats should have serious opposition and a party that is capable of ejecting them from the White House – it’s about time the Republicans started providing it.

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Last Update: April 28, 2018