Jeb, Saxby and Chris: Save your party – and us

By David Rohde
November 7, 2012

Within hours of President Obama winning re-election, two faces of the Republican Party emerged. One impressed me enormously. The other deeply troubled me. Liberals, meanwhile, rejoiced at having averted what they saw as a national calamity.

The time, though, is not for gloating. It is for supporting the Republicans who can rein in their party’s far right and help us all. For me, Fox News, of all places, was a hopeful sign.

While Karl Rove questioned whether Obama had, in fact, won Ohio, Juan Williams and Brit Hume courageously admitted the party had lost touch with a changing nation. They embraced exit polls showing that the surge in Latino, black, female and young voters that aided Obama in 2008 was a permanent demographic change, not a one-time event.

“We’re looking at a new kind of politics,” Williams said.

Hume stood tall as well.

“The demographic factors that Juan referred to are absolutely real,” he said.

And this morning Newt Gingrich, of all people, issued a bold mea culpa.

“We have to recognize that if you’re not going to be competitive with Latinos, with
African-Americans, with Native Americans, with Asian-Americans,” Gingrich said on CBS, “you’re not going to be a successful party.”

All of these officials should be applauded. I disagree with them in many ways politically. I also question whether this is the latest of many political pivots for Gingrich. But I praise and respect them for accepting the basic dynamics of the race. Publicly admitting you were wrong is never easy.

The reaction of far-right Republicans to the results, on the other hand, was astonishing. They argued that the vast swathes of female, young and minority voters who supported Obama would have supported an arch conservative.

“A succession of potential Republican nominees – Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich – were bright, attractive, and have compelling narratives,” Michael Hammond wrote on Red State, a conservative blog. “Instead, Republican voters (or, at least, enough of them) bought into this Democratic mantra that only a liberal stand-for-nothing Republican can win a presidential election.”

One group of Republicans is facing reality. Another is not. President Obama needs to quickly move to further marginalize the extreme Republican right.

His victory speech last night ended on a stirring note, but I wished it had contained concrete, bipartisan gestures. James Bennet of The Atlantic got it right in a message he posted on Twitter during the early part of the speech.

“Give us an action plan,” Bennet wrote. “Gang of 8 to the White House for budget talks next week; Romney to be commerce secretary; not stories but specifics.”

Obama, who has established few strong relationships with members of Congress, must  personally engage in the effort to avert the “fiscal cliff.” The moderate Republican senators who are members of the Gang of 8 should be a particular focus.

Cynics will scoff, but some positive signs emerged Wednesday. The White House released a statement saying that Obama had called congressional leaders from both parties Tuesday night and Wednesday morning and reiterated his support for a bipartisan solution to the fiscal cliff. In a press conference, House Speaker John Boehner said that he would be open to increasing tax revenues through tax reforms.

“We are ready to be led,” Boehner said.

If Obama can strike an elusive “grand bargain” with Republicans, I believe it will strengthen him and the moderate wing of the GOP. The question, of course, is how far Obama should bend. Recalcitrance from the far right should not be rewarded. Compromise by moderate Republicans should.

If Mitch McConnell and John Boehner choose to maintain their opposition to tax increases of any kind on the wealthy, Obama should allow the country to fall off the fiscal cliff.The best time for the damage to occur is now – just after Obama has won another four years.

Our country is deeply partisan. Yet Americans are also frustrated with the failure of both parties to get anything done. Over time, I believe that partisan brinksmanship will lose popularity.

There are some glimmers of hope. Thirteen states have agreed to curb the gerrymandering of congressional districts by having nonpartisan commissions draw districts instead of state legislatures. Multiple studies have shown that gerrymandering by partisan state legislatures has created a House of Representatives where liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans coast to re-election.

A study released by the Bipartisan Policy Center last month found that the 2012 House races will have the lowest number of competitive seats in over 40 years. There were 152 competitive seats in the 1970s, according to the study. Today, that number has dropped to 101.

In 1992 there were 96 House districts that voted for one party in the congressional race and another for president. That number has now dwindled to a half dozen.

Some politicians show that partisan divides can be bridged. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is a popular Republican governor of a state that voted 58 percent for Obama and 41 percent for Romney. Jeb Bush has criticized the party’s shift to the right. Republican senators and Gang of 8 members Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Mike Crapo of Idaho, and Mike Johanns of Nebraska have spent two years trying to find a bipartisan deficit reduction compromise.

It will take years to narrow our vast political divide. But I believe the dysfunction it breeds is becoming more and more apparent to voters. A “grand bargain” to avoid the fiscal cliff would be an enormous step forward. A small one is giving conservatives credit where credit is due. I applaud Gingrich and the Fox News commentators. More people from across the political spectrum should.

10 comments

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Controlling the extremists, or ousting them from the party, is the key to restoring the Republican party. The Republican party is now a party of ideologists not pragmatists. Ideology, whether right or left, always fails in the real world. The Democrats have long ago run off the Socialist and Communist ideologists of the far left forcing into their own insignificant parties that rarely even make it onto a ballot. (Please no comments from the far right crazies who believe otherwise). The Republican needs to do the same with the Tea Party. When candidates feel that they have to nominate a wing nut like Sarah Palin or Paul Ryan to appease the extremists, all is lost.

Posted by QuietThinker | Report as abusive

“Romney to be commerce secretary” is the right message? It’s the “right” message allright. Romney ran on his economic plan, and was rejected. Appointing him commerce secretary would be a slap in the face to the electorate.

But to the larger point: when the conservatives squawk extremist nonsense, they move the debate rightward. As long as the media keep following along, the extremism will continue. It works. We now have the likes of Boehner and McConnell characterized as moderates, and the travesty of the Gang of 8 characterized as some sort of middle ground. Even if they can’t win as many elections, they can continue to win the media war which gets them what they want anyway.

Posted by Sanity-Monger | Report as abusive

Is it April 1st already?

My how time flies when you’re having fun!

A couple of things — more like “reality checks” — since you obviously have not been paying attention. And by your article still don’t seem to understand what happened.

(1) New Gingrich is absolutely right (suddenly I have a bad taste in my mouth having said that) by this comment ““We have to recognize that if you’re not going to be competitive with Latinos, with African-Americans, with Native Americans, with Asian-Americans,” Gingrich said on CBS, “you’re not going to be a successful party.” He was simply being a bit more explicit — NOT a mea culpa — than others in your article who said basically, “it’s the demographics, stupid!”.

PLUS, and this is a VERY BIG plus, is the outright arrogance of the Republican party, who blatantly lobbied for a return to the “good old days” when the wealthy class ran rough shod over the American people.

I have said in previous comments that the wealthy class/Republicans have lost touch with reality if they think the American people are going to allow that to happen.

And, guess what, they didn’t.

You people are not the “Landed Gentry” you think you are and this is NOT England, or even the US prior to the wealthy-induced Great Depression that you have the power to force the American people to give up what little “safety net” this pathetic wealthy-run government provides.

THAT is what is wrong. You crowed you didn’t need the little people — the 99% — and guess what, you were WRONG!

Arrogance will NOT get you elected into office anymore in this country.

The “good old days” for raw wealthy power are gone. It may have worked when the country was mostly white European immigrants, but the whites are now a minority — a sort of “endangered species” in their own country — which will become the same designation for the Republican party unless they recognize that the “divine right of kings” is a concept that is long dead. THEY need the American people to survive, not the other way around.

What the Republican party NEEDS to do right now is go “hat in hand” to the Democrats and utter those magic words “mea culpa” — in other words, admit they are wrong about literally EVERYTHING — and will work with the Democrats for the betterment of THIS nation for a change. Only THAT will avoid the “fiscal cliff”.

THAT is what this vote means.

The American people are tired of your wealthy bullshit, so knock it off and face reality that this is the future, not YOUR “glorious past” which was ALWAYS at the expense of everyone else.

We aren’t willing to go back there for you people.

Posted by Gordon2352 | Report as abusive

People seem to think there’s only Left or Right and that everyone is somewhere on a scale in between. They forget there is a Top and Bottom to consider. Top being Statelessness and the Bottom being Statist. When Conservatives and Liberals both seek to use the political machinery for advantage, the Statist wins and everyone, Capitalist or Socialist (doesn’t matter) loses on an individual level. Anyone who looks to the political machine to coerce their views is supporting Statism, period. And Leviathan thanks you for your ignorance.

Posted by LysanderTucker | Report as abusive

I long for Eisenhower, a republican with a heart, courage, and decency. Something the Republican party now absolutely lacks. They are driving towards a cliff and don’t want anyone to tell them there is big cliff ahead. They seem to prefer people like Aiken, Mourdock, Karl Rove even Paul Ryan to people like Lugar. Anyone with any decency is rejected for some ideology like anti-abortion but a fake ideology because many of these people will go ahead and would take their daughters, wifes to an abortion clinic should they be raped and impregnated by their rapist. Their hypocrisy is just unacceptable for any person with one bit of decency and respect for others.

Posted by ofilha | Report as abusive

I love you Gordon2352.

Posted by ofilha | Report as abusive

Rush Limbaugh, stated that women prefer Obama treating them like a vagina. This kind of crass, drunken talk is not good for the Reps and instead they should voice their absolute rejection of the limbaugh types. But no, they embrace him or then try to minimize their vituperative voices by claiming they are joking or why are decent people so sensitive?
But the problem is not the demographics, it is the philosophy. The problem with the party is that it accepts the jingoistic view of latinos,asians, blacks, women, and every other minority. They also do not have a sole control of the capitalist view. Democrats believe in capitalism as much as republicans. So, unless the republican party is ready to reject racism, jingoism, anti-women attitudes, reject the longing of taking the US back to the middle ages where women, blacks, and hispanics were put in their place they cannot intrisicaly change, it will all be just visual effects, optics and we all can see through that.

Posted by ofilha | Report as abusive

Yes, the GOP will have to figure out a different way to trick people into voting for them.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Oh, I kinda like the way the GOP is going…makes it easier to get people into office who give a crap about people in general and not just the rich ones who buy the elections for them.

I’m tired of a bunch of rich old white guys telling me I need the government poking around in my vagina so they can make health and life decisions for me. These are usually the same clowns who want a “smaller goverment” and “goverment off our backs”. Weird, huh? I get a good bit of glee watching the GOP self-destruct since the whole K-Street project, stolen elections, Swift-boating, lying, vote suppressing, mysogynist, race-baiting wing of the party highjacked it. Any party that attracts the extremist fringe of right wing whack-jobs that they do should seriously do some soul-searching. I wonder how many in the KKK vote GOP…they certainly don’t vote Democratic.

Posted by iMom | Report as abusive

Oh, I kinda like the way the GOP is going…makes it easier to get people into office who give a crap about people in general and not just the rich ones who buy the elections for them.

I’m tired of a bunch of rich old white guys telling me I need the government poking around in my vagina so they can make health and life decisions for me. These are usually the same clowns who want a “smaller goverment” and “goverment off our backs”. Weird, huh? I get a good bit of glee watching the GOP self-destruct since the whole K-Street project, stolen elections, Swift-boating, lying, vote suppressing, mysogynist, race-baiting wing of the party highjacked it. Any party that attracts the extremist fringe of right wing whack-jobs that they do should seriously do some soul-searching. I wonder how many in the KKK vote GOP…they certainly don’t vote Democratic.

Posted by iMom | Report as abusive