Alex Massie

Towards a Republican Recovery

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Reihan Salam offers some tough love to the GOP:

In a Pew survey conducted shortly after the 2008 election, an impressive 38 percent of the electorate identified themselves as conservatives, far more than the 21 percent who called themselves liberals. Yet 51 percent of those self-described conservatives favored repealing some of the Bush tax cuts. And 24 percent of them wanted to repeal all of them. Not surprisingly, a larger share of liberals and moderates felt the same way. Note that the official GOP position has been that the Bush tax cuts should be made permanent. To put it plainly, the official Republican position—forcefully advanced by conservative media luminaries—reflects the views of just under half of the most conservative bloc of the country.


Republicans, particularly rock-ribbed Reaganites, have compromised themselves into a corner. They say they’re cutting taxes, but they never go after funding for Medicare and Medicaid and education. Instead Republicans talk about trimming or at least restraining discretionary spending. That’s a good and worthwhile thing to do, but it’s not where the real money is. The real money is in making Medicare and Medicaid and education cheaper and more effective. But hard-core conservatives don’t talk about those issues because they’d rather pretend these mammoth, massively popular programs didn’t exist.

This is one reason why, tempting though it is to howl in anguish at the prospect of President Obama's plans to massively increase the federal deficit over the coming years, the "Tea Party" movement has had difficulty in persuading people to take it seriously. Now, as Reihan says, it may well be that the GOP is right to think that cutting taxes remains important, but, right now, it's not enough to sustain the party, let alone prepare it for happier times. That is, the ghosts of Regan and Jack Kemp can only take you so far.

That doesn't mean abandoning time-honoured conservative principles, but it does require them to be updated to accomodate the electorate's current concerns.

Republicans will win elections again, but the question for the party, I think, is not so much how long it will remain in the wilderness but the extent to which it can help shape the political landscape so that, as has been the case in recent decades, when all other things are equal the Republican party is marginally more likely to prevail than the Democrats. Obama's ambition - his mission, if you will - is to change that balance of probability so that the default position of American politics is tilted, ever so slightly, in favour of the Democratic party.

A two party system lends itself to close elections. But there's close and then there's really close. 51-49 is close, 53-47 rather less so. It's the margins that matter and, right now, the Democrats are winning the key and decisive battles.

Which is another way of saying, inter alia, that if minorities cast 25% of the votes, the GOP, as matters currently stand, needs to do super-well amongst white voters just to break even. Or, to put it another way, the potential rewards for weakening Democratic support amongst black, hispanic and asian voters are enormous.

Still, as Reihan says, there are signs that the GOP is beginning to come to terms with the scale of the long-trm challenge it faces. It's a long march, but it has to begin somewhere.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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