National Edition

GOP struggles to redefine party under electoral pressure

Published: Tuesday, July 16 2013 1:10 p.m. MDT

The problem, they argued, was that “liberal fundamentalism” had driven a wedge between the party and “the middle class, without whose solid support it cannot hope to rebuild a presidential majority.”

The DLC’s response was to push the party back to the center. A key player in the push was Bill Clinton, a moderate governor from conservative Arkansas who broke the Democrat’s supposed electoral curse in 1992 and 1996. Galston went on to become chief domestic policy adviser in the Clinton White House.

“We’ve seen the movie before,” Galston laughs.

Galston’s advice to the GOP today is an echo of his 1988 advice to his own party: The GOP should target downscale voters with a populist appeal. And like Trende and Douthat, Galston thinks “the kind of populist arguments that resonate with that constituency might actually offer the Republicans a better chance with minority voters in the longer run as well.”

Plenty of problems

In Galston’s view, Republicans have “backed themselves into a series of stances that are hard to sell to a majority of the American people.”

On economics, he says that supply side arguments for cutting taxes at the top to spur growth have lost favor with the public.

Budget slashing is also hard to sell, Galston argued. “It’s the sort of argument that works in the abstract,” he said, “but when you get to specifics you are in trouble.” This is especially true for the “downscale side of the Republican coalition,” he noted, who react very poorly to entitlement cuts.

And when the Republican presidential candidates were asked in a debate, Galston notes, if any of them would accept a 10:1 budget cuts to tax hikes compromise on the deficit, not a single one raised his or her hand.

Galston points to two other areas where he thinks the GOP has lost touch with the American voter. In foreign policy, he argues, “wars of choice” in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned off voters, erasing the Republican’s once powerful advantage on national security.

Meanwhile, on social policy, the GOP has become beholden to religious conservatives, a geographically narrow base focused on moral issues most swing voters either do not prioritize or favor.

Galston’s vision of a GOP future harks back to Clinton’s experience with the Democrats, pushing back at his party’s extremists — taking on its Sister Souljahs and thereby risking the ire of its Jesse Jacksons.

Galston thinks New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie could pull that kind of maneuver, but whoever does it will need to combine a visceral appeal to ordinary people with a more centrist worldview.

Even before you get to race and ethnicity, Galston said, “the Republicans have plenty of problems.”

The Weekly Standard's Jay Cost agrees. "In diagnosing the problems they experienced in 2012," he asked, "why are Republicans looking at race and ethnicity? Whose ideas is that? Is it their idea? And is that the most obvious path to fixing the problem?"

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com

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