These two articles were published early in 2015; as the year has progressed, it has become more apparent that the party is fractured and struggling, and these articles have increased in relevance.
Billionaire investor Mark Cuban was in the news recently opining on the future strategy of the Republican party. Perhaps not surprisingly, he believes that the party should put its entire focus on economic issues, on how to stimulate business and so strengthen the economy, and should completely ignore what he dubs the "social issues", although in not explaining what those are he does seem to suggest that it is everything that is not about the economy. He claims that would make for a simple message that is easy to sell, and get a lot of the other matters out of the way.
He certainly is right that a single-issue party has an easy message. However, he fails to understand the nature of the Republican coalition--or indeed, I suspect, of the Democratic coalition. The political landscape is litered with single-issue parties--a party based on opposition to abortion, a party based on minimal government, a party against taxes, a party about consumer protection, a party about environmental protection, and the list sometimes seems endless. These are all "third parties", precisely because they draw only those people for whom that is the only important issue. That works, as we previously explained, in parliamentary governments. Here in the United States, only coalition parties--parties which appeal to a broad base by building platforms of policies that appeal to a wide range of people with different views about what is important--can succeed in national politics.
Besides, it is not at all clear that the economic platform of the Republican party appeals to a majority even of Republicans. Many who would always vote the party line would prefer to raise taxes on the wealthy and on corporations; many doubt whether supply side "trickle-down" economics actually works. There are quite a few Republicans who if not on social services themselves have close friends and family who are dependent on these. Sure, we all want the economy to improve, and many of us will vote for the party that persuades us it can bring us there--but we are not economists, nor investors, nor business tycoons, nor bankers, in the main, and most of us will not understand arguments about economic policy. We still do not agree as to whether Roosevelt's massive stimulus programs did anything to pull us out of the Great Depression, or whether we were saved by the demand for military hardware sales to the allies with the advent of World War II. It is no surprise that some experts say that Reaganomics had the intended effect of pulling us out of the recession while others say it only worsened the lives of the poor. It is a complicated field, and experimental data is impossible to obtain--one cannot test an economic theory like a drug trial, with a test group getting the benefits of the new idea while the control group keeps the old system. There are simply too many variables. And so if either party decides to be entirely about economic policy--as critical as economic policy is--it will become the party of those few who truly believe that such a policy will work, and lose those who have no understanding of it.
Meanwhile, the Republican coalition contains many who have no grasp of economics but do know that they want to protect their second amendment gun rights, or who seek to defend the lives of the unborn or protect traditional marriage. It has constituents who are upset by Obamacare for reasons that have little to do with economics. It is the choice of those who oppose marijuana legalization. The Republican party has these voters coming to the polls precisely because of these "social issues", that they see this party as their one hope to fight against what they regard as bad policy at best, moral wickedness at worst.
Mark Cuban's advice would seem to me to bring the death of the Republican Party. Millions of presently registered Republicans would have no reason to vote for a party that turns its back on those issues which matter to them; Democrats who are already persuaded that the Republican economic message is about making the rich richer are not going to flock to the party once it makes that its only point. Instead, many Republicans for whom the economic message is irrelevant but who are part of the party because of those other policy positions are likely to leave, looking for the small single-issue party with whom they agree, possibly seeking to form a new coalition around those social issues, or voting for the Democrats because they understand their socialist economic program and no longer have a major party fighting for their position on what to them are the truly important "social" issues. Cuban's Republican party would lose more voters than it gains.
The Republican party faces a dilemma because its coalition is struggling. It is comprised of several groups who are very serious about their specific issues, who vote those issues and those issues only. It attempts to fuse those groups together into a unified voting block; but those groups are starting to fracture precisely because each of them sees itself as the heart of the Republican message and believes that it can increase the appeal of the party by eliminating the other issues, the issues which draw the other groups into the existing coalition. A party that focuses solely on the Republican economic message will be no more successful than one which is solely about saving the unborn, or preserving traditional marriage, or standing for freedom of religion or gun rights or any other single policy--or indeed, no more successful than a party that stands solely for a socialist economic program or homosexual rights or gun control or abortion rights. The party needs the coalition, and only gets there by supporting the issues that matter to the people who form it.
May they recognize that they need each other before they destroy themselves.
Next we will offer a possible solution to this problem.
The Republican party faces a problem. In brief, its coalition is fracturing. Some of its wealthier members believe that the only issue that matters is economic policy, and all other issues ought to be dropped from the platform to send a single message to the voters. However, others in the party are not so interested in the economic message as they are in other issues--gun rights, marriage, right to life, and others. Yet each of these issues--including the economic one--is an obstacle to some of the voters, making it tougher for Republicans to be elected in many states. The question is, what does the Republican party do to fix this?
We also noted that dropping those controversial issues does not work. Certainly there are people who vote for the Republican economic policy, but there are at least as many voting for Republicans because of those other issues, who do not see that the Republican economic policy is a better choice than the Democratic one. Dropping out of those positions amounts to jettisoning part of the party and hoping, rather irrationally, that a greater number of persons will cross to the Republicans once all the issues the Democrats use to form their coalition are no longer debated. If I do not understand economic policy (the majority even of those elected in both parties) but vote for the Democrats because I agree with them about abortion, or marriage, or guns, or some other issue, the fact that the Republicans decide no longer to take a position on those issues is not going to cause me to run to them. The Democrats have their divisions, but they are not fracturing. The Republicans cannot expect to gain significant numbers by jettisoning the issues that matter to one or more of the groups that form their coalition.
So what is the alternative?
One of the facts in the mix is that the demographics suggest that younger people are Democrats and older people Republicans. The assumption from that is that in the years ahead the Republicans will all die leaving the country to the Democrats. That is an invalid assumption. Younger people have usually tended to be more liberal than their parents, partly because they grew up in a more liberal world so their base of "normal" is different, partly because they have never considered the more conservative positions and arguments. No one under forty was alive at a time when abortions were not available; that is normal for them, and many do not understand why it might be different.
What the Republicans need to do is first to embrace the positions held by its disparate groups--the economic conservatives, the military conservatives, the social conservatives--then to promote and explain why the party holds these positions. Intelligent advertising campaigns need to be launched--not polemics which will reach only the faithful, but programs that will find their way into the lives of others, and particularly younger people, to help them understand the side of the issue they have never considered--why Republicans oppose the killing of the unborn, the registration and confiscation of firearms, the redefinition of a millenia-old institution, the economic policy of borrowing ever increasing amounts of money to pay ever burgeoning numbers of government employees, the taxing of the wealthy out of existence to give free cell phones and Internet access to the poor. Republicans do not hold these positions because they are arrogant or stupid or prejudiced; they hold them because there are good solid reasons for them. That is the message the Republican party needs to advance between now and the 2016 election.
More accurately, those are the messages. They can be pursued individually by each of the factions within the coalition--social conservatives running campaigns to explain why they oppose abortion and homosexual marriage, gun rights advocates pushing information about why a society without guns is worse than one with guns, economic conservatives explaining the complex policies and why they make the economy better. For one thing, with the coalition fragmenting such an effort would help the various conservative factions understand each other and work together more effectively. For another thing, there are too many people, particularly younger people, who hold positions they were taught, not positions they derived from their own consideration of the issues, and if they can be engaged in dialogue, made to see the other side, we will find that, as is almost always the case, as younger people become older they also become more conservative.
Mark Twain is quoted as saying that the only thing sadder than a young pessimist is an old optimist. As true, the only thing more incredible than a young conservative is an old liberal. People who watch the world change eventually realize that it is not improving, and not everything we have gained is better than what we have lost. That is the message the Republican party needs to promote, if they have any hope of rebuilding their strength for the long term.
For an example of something that might work as such an add for one specific topic, see web log post #7: The Most Persecuted Minority.