In the wake of the failed Romney Republican Presidential bid, there is a lot of discussion about what Republicans must do to recover losses and become a viable national party again. Pundits and analysts couch it in terms of “appealing to the minority vote”, that is, getting more Blacks, Hispanics, Asiatics, Women, and Youth to support the party’s positions. This conception is essentially discriminatory and prejudicial, as demonstrated by remembering such people as Thomas Sowell, Marco Rubio, Michelle Malkin, Mia Love, Darrell Issa, Allen West, Herman Cain, Bobby Jindal, Carlos Gutierrez, and Nikki Haley, all of whom fit in one or more such group, and all conservatives who undoubtedly voted Republican. In any case, if we remember our understanding of coalitions at the party level, we should realize that it is not really about forming a new coalition of ethnic and demographic groups, but forming a coalition based on ideas and policies, putting forward a platform that will draw supporters because it supports what they most want and does not support what they most oppose.
This is not a matter of complete agreement of all factions within a party. Democrats appeal to those who favor relaxed immigration laws despite the fact that most of labor considers lax immigration policy a threat to American jobs (although whether union leaders share this concern in the face of the advantage of increasing union membership with immigrants, and thus increasing their power, is another question). It is possible for a party to thrive while supporting policies some of its members favor and some oppose, as long as each faction sees the party as the best supporter of its most important issues. When a party manages to persuade a group that previously supported a different party that the group’s interests are better served by itself, the coalition changes.
This has been done before. In the wake of the Civil War, the Lincoln Republican Party was the party of civil rights. Even into the late sixties and early seventies, southern Democrats such as George Wallace were the bastion of discrimination. But northern Democrats including the Kennedys stole the issue from the Republicans, getting ahead of them in supporting the civil rights movement in the early sixties and so becoming the civil rights party. The coalition shifted as southern whites realized the Democrats no longer represented their interests, but now more blacks are Democrats, and more southern whites are Republican.
(This is not saying that the Republicans are the party of discrimination; rather, when the Democrats ceased to be the party of discrimination and spearheaded civil rights, they gained minorities from the Republicans while southern whites discovered that they were more in agreement with the Republican party on other issues.)
The question is what positions the Republicans can change. That sometimes means who they can afford to lose. For example, giving up their positions on abortion and marriage will cost them the “religious right”, many of whom would support Democratic positions on unions or welfare but are more concerned with these issues they perceive as moral questions. On the other hand, sometimes parties retain policies because they always have, but which no longer are critical questions for their constituents. The party has to figure out who within it has what non-negotiables, and where it can change its views to take people from the Democrats without losing more than it gains. Will a change in immigration stance cost voters, or gain them? What about tax policy issues?
That’s not something a column of this sort is likely to accomplish. However, if Republicans begin thinking in terms of issues and compromise instead of demographics, it might be able to create a stronger and larger coalition over the next four years and restore itself as a contender.