A column I wrote a couple weeks ago about the Clark County Republican Party led to an interesting conversation with a friend of mine. The local Republicans had chastised Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler for voting to end the government shutdown, and I questioned whether it was wise for officials to cannibalize one of their own as part of an ongoing fight for the soul of the party.
Which is what led to the conversation.
"Why should we be the ones to change?" my friend asked. "Why should we compromise if we're on the right side of the argument? Why shouldn't Democrats be the ones to change?"
All of which are valid questions that speak to the future of the party. Oh, I'm not one of those who claim that Republicans are lurching toward irrelevancy, that the party is on its death bed due to self-inflicted wounds. You don't have to be very old to remember when the same thing was being said about the Democrats. That was in 2000, after George W. Bush won his first presidential election; eight years later, Democrats won the presidency and both houses of Congress.
So, yes, the tide can turn quickly in politics. But the reason I spend so much time focusing on the Republicans, I suppose, is that they are just so darn interesting. Not in a train-wreck sort of way, but rather in a fascinating-philosophical-discussion fashion. The fight within the party, between what typically is viewed as the Tea Party faction vs. the party establishment, is playing out right here in Clark County as well as the rest of the nation.
Ideology doesn't sell
Consider a couple gubernatorial races from two weeks ago. Chris Christie won 60 percent of the vote in traditionally Democrat New Jersey, yet he is vilified by the right wing of his party as being a RINO -- Republican in Name Only. Meanwhile, Ken Cuccinelli, a "conservative firebrand," lost the race for governor in Virginia, but I heard both Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter on the radio the next day chortling about how Cuccinelli "almost won." Who knew there were moral victories in politics?
Or consider Mitt Romney's "47 percent," the notion that Democrats are buying votes by creating a welfare state that leads to dependency on the government. Well, Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, has studied the issue, and he reports that "16 of the 20 states with highest food-stamp populations voted for Mitt Romney." If Democrats are buying votes through assistance programs, they aren't getting their money's worth.
Or consider a recent Esquire/NBC News study that found there are more Americans politically in the middle than on either the right or the left. They don't agree on all issues but, as columnist Kathleen Parker writes, "Mostly they share a disdain of ideological purity."
That is a problem for the party that has brought us, for example, the absurd no-tax purity of Grover Norquist. As I have pointed out a couple times, in 2012, more Americans voted for Democrats for president, for the Senate, and for the House of Representatives. Republicans retained their majority in the House, but Democrats in total received more votes in House races.
That, it would seem, is the reason Republicans need to find some middle ground within their own party. The in-fighting needs to be reduced or the mantra of voters is going to be, "I didn't leave the Republican Party; it left me." The ideology doesn't need to change, but the idea of how to connect with voters should be tinkered with.
Many a pundit has postulated that Ronald Reagan couldn't win the Republican nomination these days. I don't necessarily agree with that; Reagan, above all, was a pragmatist who was able to sell himself as an ideologue. He would have adjusted to the times. But I do wonder how his modern-day acolytes reconcile themselves to the fact that Reagan granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants.
Could the Republicans use another Reagan? Sure they could. Yet as Herrera Beutler said in the statement that drew the wrath of the local GOP, "At some point, you have to separate what you want from what you can actually achieve."