In the past week, there has been a flood of commentary diagnosing the problems with the Republican Party and offering simple solutions for how they could be resolved. These advice pieces can generally be boiled down to “Republicans would be more successful if they agreed with me on more issues.” Predictably, moderates have argued the party needs to be more centrist, while conservatives have argued it needs to be more faithful to conservative values. Socially liberal Republicans have blamed social conservatives for the results while those who have been pushing for a path to citizenship for years have blamed immigration hardliners. But the reality is a lot more complicated.
For instance, consider the idea that a softer line on immigration will boost Republicans’ electoral prospects by helping win over Hispanic voters. There’s no doubt that Republicans will have to find a way to improve their standing among this growing demographic group to compete in national elections. But it isn’t necessarily clear that immigration is the answer. According to a Pew Hispanic Center survey released in October, just 34 percent of Latino registered voters considered immigration to be “extremely important” to them. That trailed education (55 percent); jobs and the economy (54 percent); health care (50 percent); the federal budget deficit (36 percent) and barely edged out taxes (33 percent). It’s quite possible, in other words, that Republicans could back some form of amnesty for illegal immigrants, and still find that they don’t improve among this voting bloc. Also, a softer line on immigration could hurt Republicans’ ability to win over working class voters who feel threatened by cheaper labor, and working class voters are a bloc that another contingent of pundits views as crucial to GOP comeback chances.
Further complicating matters is that 51 percent of Hispanics think abortion should be illegal in most or all cases and 47 percent oppose or strongly oppose gay marriage, according to a study by the Public Religion Research Institute. If Republicans take the advice of many and sideline social issues, there could be a subset of socially conservative Hispanics currently voting Republican, who decide they may as well vote for Democrats on the basis of economic issues.
In 2004, when John Kerry lost to a vulnerable incumbent, a lot of conservative commentators and moderate Democrats argued that the party needed to move to the center. Yet two years later, Democrats took over Congress on an even more strident anti-war message. By 2008, all of the major Democratic candidates offered universal health care plans that were more ambitious than even the liberal Howard Dean’s four year’s earlier, and President Obama won a landslide with a liberal policy platform. In the 2010 midterms, Democrats lost control of Congress, as opposition to his health care law fueled a Republican surge. Yet last week, Americans reelected Obama, even though it would ensure that law gets implemented.
The ideology of the American electorate doesn’t swing so wildly every two years, but circumstances change. Like Bush in 2004, Obama’s reelection wasn’t necessarily a vindication of his policies, but it was a second chance. If the economy doesn’t improve over the course of Obama’s second term – or potentially weakens – it will be extremely difficult for Democrats to win a third consecutive presidential election, especially given that 2016 GOP field promises to produce a strong candidate. If there’s a second-term boom, the Democratic candidate will be in a better position to argue for a continuation of Obama’s policies.
Personally, I support legalizing gay marriage, regardless of the politics, because I don’t see how two men marrying has any bearing on my life. I consider myself pro-life and admire those who fight to advance the cause, but tend to focus more on fiscal issues in my own work. My immigration views, which tend toward making it easier for people to come to the nation legally and more difficult to do so illegally, could earn me the status of “squish” in some quarters. Yet at the same time, I understand that there are too many moving parts in an electorate to suggest that if the party were closer to my views, it would work as some sort of magic elixir for the GOP. As somebody who has passionately held beliefs myself, I don’t see how I could argue that other people need to subordinate their own beliefs to mine so that a political party could win more elections. Especially when the reality is a lot more complicated.