OCALA, Fla., November 14, 2013 — The Republican Party is in the midst of an identity crisis.
Followers of Ron Paul are storming the establishment’s gates, armed with a passion for libertarianism. At the same time, social rightists are struggling to remain the GOP’s dominant faction. All of this has left moderates more or less out of the picture.
During the years ahead, which path might the GOP take?
This question hangs high for Republican apparatchiks, activists, and somewhat disengaged, though nonetheless concerned, voters. While predicting the future seems an impossible task, it is more important than ever before to discern where the Party’s best path forward lies.
“Sadly the Republican Party seems determined to stay on its course of self-destruction,” says career political operative Fred Karger. He rose to prominence by consulting on the campaigns of notables such as Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bob Dole. His most famous cause, though, is not for a single politician, but an extremely divisive issue: same-sex marriage.
Karger brought much attention to the matter when he ran for the GOP’s presidential nomination during last year’s primaries. In doing so, he became the first openly gay candidate for the presidency. These days, he furthers the interest of not only LGBT rights but reasonable Republican politics as a commentator.
“Often it nominates extremely polarizing candidates who drive away young voters, mainstream conservatives and moderates,” Karger continues. “People become embarrassed to be a conservative or a Republican. Millions of reasonable people have left the GOP over the past 25 years and changed their party registration.
“Once they are gone, the pool of Republicans becomes dominated by the far right and the demise of the Republican Party becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“The best way to reverse this course is for a national leader to come along who will excite the country make it socially acceptable to once again be a Republican. In 1974 after Richard Nixon resigned, the Republican Party was a pariah especially with younger Americans. Six years later Ronald Reagan turned things around almost did so overnight. I have hope that this will happen again.”
One of our time’s foremost centrist Republican politicians is Christine Todd Whitman. Throughout her extensive career in public service, she managed to transcend the glass ceiling.
Having served two terms as Governor of New Jersey in the 1990s and, during the George W. Bush Administration, been appointed Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, she is now an advocate for moderate political and environmental causes.
“I do think there is an inherent attack on women’s abilities to run their own lives,” she told TWTC last year. “The Republican Party needs to speak to the issues that women care about – taxes, education, and health care. And the party needs to give more than lip service to female candidates – putting women up in places they can actually win, not just showing off a female candidate in a race she’s bound to lose.
“We as a party need to be cultivating our female candidates and giving them financial support when they choose to run.”
Karger explains his views: “There continues to be some pressure on eroding women’s rights, but nothing like there was in the past. As more and more women assume positions of power in business and government they are now setting the policies and making the laws. When women are in the room they are far less likely to be targeted. The continued progress on equal treatment and equal pay for women is long overdue and a welcome change in this country.”
He also says that “(c)onservatives should actively work to appeal to younger voters, and while doing so they need to move past the very divisive social issues like abortion and gay marriage. Look for those issues that unite us and don’t divide us like creating jobs, economic empowerment, immigration rights and creating strong families.
“This is the direction that the Republican Party needs to head and it will then be able to attract more minorities and women and grow the movement.”
Issues such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage are lightning rods for socially rightist elements of the GOP base. Particularly in closed primaries, radical, unelectable candidates often win by campaigning on these alone. This has left scores wondering if such a thing will prove to be an enduring problem, as well as how it might be allayed.
“It’ll be a problem as long as candidates win general elections running on extreme base issues,” Whitman noted. “What will stop it is when those more extreme candidates lose those elections after winning primaries running on the far-right issues. Those candidates are running on issues that are not key for the majority of the voting public.
“A few polls that came out right before the Obamacare Supreme Court decision came down gave a window into what voters care about – they were far more focused on jobs, taxes, and the economy than even the repeal of ‘Obamacare.’ If health care isn’t the major concern, abortion and gay marriage are clearly only base issues - they appeal to a small, but extremely vocal minority.”
At any rate, it cannot be ignored that the right-wing media have played a large role in churning up national sentiment against centrist conservatives.
“The rise of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh has had a huge impact on the surge of the far right in this country,” Karger tells. “Roger Ailes is a very smart guy. As the creator of Fox News, he was able to tap into a certain mood in the country that was being ignored. He made Fox News entertaining and people flocked to hear broadcasters they agreed with.
“Rush Limbaugh, through his huge national platform, added fuel to the fire. Suddenly what had been a more local concentration of far right radio talk shows, burst onto the scene nationally and became a very effective and profitable American phenomenon.”
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