The Republicans will have to change if they want to win nationally again. The voting coalition that they use to rely on has both fractured and lost demographic weight. Michael Steele (pictured), the new RNC head, seems to have grasped this better than most in the party. When he ran for the Senate from Maryland in 2006, he shaped an effective message and actively reached out to non-traditional Republican voters. He was rewarded—in a heavily Democratic year—with a higher share of the vote than Bush had won in the state in 2004 and than the Republicans had achieved in either the 2000 or 2004 Senate races in the state. Another plus is that Steele is an effective media performer and someone who defies the usual stereotypes of Republicans.
As the Tory experience shows, the real challenge to those who wish to reform a roundly rejected party comes not in the immediate aftermath of the first defeat but when modernisation does not bring instant results. It is then that the voices clamouring for a return to the party’s comfort zone and a core vote strategy will be at their loudest. The real test for Steele and the Republicans will be to keep on trying to broaden the party’s message and appeal even if this does not result in immediate gains in the 2010 mid-terms.
PS You can see Steel’s acceptance speech below.