Getting smacked down by voters is supposed to awaken a latent instinct for reform—or at least self-preservation—among politicians. Smarting from a presidential rout, there are Republicans who sense that the GOP must change or wither. There are even a few who privately agree that what they really need is a “Republican Clinton”—although that would be a hard phrase for most of them to utter aloud.
For those who like to win national elections, however, it sounds like a useful concept. During the two decades from Clinton’s arrival in 1992 through 2012, the Democratic Party has won five of six presidential elections, including Al Gore’s stolen victory in 2000, and two midterm elections. From 1972 through 1988, they had lost four out of five by huge landslides—the same sign of looming obsolescence now confronted by the Republicans.
Given their belligerent temperament (and the old wounds opened by such questions), the inevitable debate among Republicans over the party’s direction is likely to become a factional “war,” with establishment types pitted against Tea Party activists and evangelical zealots. But what if they could stop and think calmly? How would a GOP reformer — in the style of the former Democratic president whom so many of them praised during this election cycle — reshape their party?
Setting aside the merits of the various positions that Clinton espoused as both candidate and president, voters came to see him as the symbol of a renewed Democratic Party they could trust (and clearly many still do). What would Republicans have to do to regain the trust they have forfeited since the Reagan era?
As a first step, a Republican Clinton surely would instruct them to face the demographic realities that no American can ignore. This country’s future politics will reflect its changing complexion, no longer dominated by a white majority but reflecting the growing plurality of Latinos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and others.
Repelled by the arrant racism in the Tea Party movement and the evidence of broader nativism in the GOP, these groups become increasingly dedicated to the Democrats with each successive election. If that same habit obtains among their children, the Republicans are truly doomed in this century.
While that warning is already clichéd, it is hardly inaccurate. But a Republican with a Clintonian outlook would say that the party’s problems go much deeper – and that merely revamping the failed GOP approach to Latinos, blacks, and other minorities won’t cut it. Tokenism doesn’t deceive anybody except the tokens.
The effective cure is to rethink, if not abandon, cherished ideological positions — a painful process for many party activists and perhaps unthinkable for those who are telling themselves that Mitt Romney lost because he wasn’t “severely conservative” enough.
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