by Dustin Call/DPR Capitol Editor
We have been constantly hearing – in the months following the Republican Party’s latest national and statewide electoral rejection – the GOP may be on the brink of irrelevance (especially in California) unless some major changes are made.
The party’s absence from all of the statewide elected offices, helplessness in the face of opposing super majorities in both houses of the California legislature, sub-thirty percent statewide registration, and projected half-million dollar debt are only the beginning.
Despite the gloom and doom, the California Republican Party’s Spring 2013 Convention in downtown Sacramento possessed an energy that many veterans haven’t seen in quite some time. The party even made some wise choices in electing new state leadership in former Senator Jim Brulte as Chairman, and San Francisco lawyer Harmeet Dhillon, a Sikh, as the new Vice Chairman.
I believe the new leadership will initiate the changes needed within the organization of the CRP to, once again, make the state party a force in California. However, there is a lot more that the Republican Party needs to do in California and nationally in order to not only survive in today’s electorate, but to restore itself to prominence.
Most Republicans will say that the party has three options moving forward: 1) Don’t change a thing. 2) Change our policies by virtue of changing our principles, and message differently to the public. 3) Stick to our principles and policies, but message them better to the public. Each of these ideas has its supporters and opponents, some being more popular than others. The favored idea among the party’s base is the third option.
I propose a fourth option; a combination of the latter two options. Yes, modernize the way we message to the electorate, especially to youth and minorities. Yes, stick to the principles that are the foundation of our party: personal freedom, personal responsibility, equality of opportunity, and limited government. And – perhaps surprisingly – Yes, offer up policies that are fresh, innovative, and distinct from many of those we have thus offered up.
What too many conservatives do not realize is that our principles are not limited to translating only into the policies that have become permanent fixtures of the Republican playbook. Our sound principles can be translated into countless new policy positions that do not compromise what we believe in. We only need to allow for them to be brought to the table.
What this means is the Republican Party needs a new breed; a coalition of individuals willing to shine light on new paths for the party. And rather than this festering into increased tension within the party, the GOP needs to broaden its tent to allow for fresh ideas and new approaches.
These Republicans will realize that the electorate of California and the United States has changed since Reagan-Bush, and that it may never be the same again. Whether this is good or bad, I have no comment. I merely argue that these changes require us to acclimate and evolve.
California is more culturally, ethnically, and regionally diverse than any other state in the union. This, in combination with California’s youthful demographic and history of innovative and forward thinking, provides the perfect laboratory for the rebirth of the Republican Party. If we can figure out how to succeed here, we can succeed anywhere.
California also provides us with the perfect forum to improve on issues that we have struggled with nationally, in addition to locally: education, the environment, and immigration.
Our state’s public education system has steadily dropped to being among the worst in the nation. We have hundreds of miles of fragile coastline that are suffering from pollution, on top of many other natural resources due to our vast environmental diversity. And we are home to millions of illegal immigrants due to our major ports of entry and our international border.
With these three issues Republicans have an opportunity to become focused on educating more young people, preserving a healthy natural living environment for future generations, reforming our inefficient and sluggish immigration system, and trying to find ways to allow more families to stay together rather than splitting them up.
Some may argue that altering our stances on these issues would compromise other positions the party holds dear, such as limiting government regulation of our lives and proper observance of the laws of our land along with justice for violating them. Even if this were to be the case, the party really needs to decide where its priorities lie and be willing to adopt a certain level of pragmatism in order to regain power.
Most conservatives revere Ronald Reagan in a way similar to the Left’s idolization of President Obama. This makes it all the more frustrating to observe the frequent disregard of, what I feel is, one of Reagan’s most important pieces of advice.
While he was still serving as governor of our great state, Reagan reportedly told his chief of staff “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally – not a 20 percent traitor.”
Rather than taking this to heart, far too many conservatives reject any Republican who is not “ideologically pure” or who suggests policy positions outside the conservative dogma, labeling them as a “Republican in name only” or a liberal.
Former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman was labeled as such during the 2012 Republican Primaries. While sticking true to most of the Republican Party’s principles Huntsman offered up ideas and policies that were indeed different and innovative. Instead of being embraced, or at least recognized as a legitimate Republican candidate, he was labeled a RINO.
While I am not endorsing Huntsman, in terms of his campaign, I am using his campaign’s strategy as an example.
Even Ronald Reagan himself was not what many Conservatives make him out to be. His signing of the 1986 amnesty bill would insight cries of impeachment among many of today’s Right-Wingers.
While ‘restoring the Republican Party to the party of Reagan’ is a commonly-used- rhetorical-vagueness I generally identify and agree with, I prefer to prescribe to the idea of returning the Republican Party to being more like the party of Lincoln; a party that was largely built on a then-progressive interpretation of “liberty and justice for all” – abolition of slavery.
At the time, the idea of abolition was new and viewed as a betrayal of the principle of states’ rights, something the GOP holds dear today. However, there was a more important principle at the foundation of the policy that the new party chose to favor – personal liberty.
Today’s Republican Party would be wise to consider what principles its own policies are currently compromising in favor of others.
When approached correctly, change and compromise can be virtues instead of vices. The Republican Party in California, and throughout the nation, needs to stick to its basic principles but learn how to translate those principles into new and effective policies that will attract and engage citizens in our cause. Only then we will be able to change the tone of our message to attract new voters.
Principles can’t truly be called principles if they are abandoned in times of trial, which is why we must stick by and not abandon them. But if the party can’t win elections and thus can’t govern, our principles will be of little use to California or the United States.
Both our state and our nation need the GOP. For proof of this, we need look no further than to Abraham Lincoln himself. But rather than needing the Grand Old Party, we need the Grand New Party. And California is the perfect place to make this happen.