Joseph Cotto, 8/25/2015 [Archive]

Social Issues Weighing Down Republicans

By Joseph Cotto

Four more years it was.

I had a feeling this would happen, but did not expect President Obama to win by such a wide margin. There can be no doubt that Republicans from coast to coast were asking themselves why Mitt Romney lost, and how the GOP might be able to regain its footing.

The answers were not what they wanted to hear.

Romney ran an honorable campaign, and never descended to the depths of smear merchandising. However, his tendency to change positions on more than a few key issues, apparently for the purpose of currying public favor, did not go unnoticed. Indeed, the natural moderate became a rock-ribbed conservative, especially insofar as social policy was concerned.

One can point out that Romney was left with little choice due to the GOP's resurgent right-wing, an observation that gains more credibility when the 2012 presidential primaries enter consideration.

Nonetheless, it is undeniable that social issues cost Romney's campaign dearly in the suburbs of many major cities. Had he won these, or done so by a larger margin, then Mitt would now be our chief executive.

This brings about a far more dire concern. How can the Republican brand compete in an America whose societal landscape is changing so rapidly? Most states have legalized same-sex marriage, and repealing laws against marijuana isn't getting any more unpopular. While opposing abortion rights still holds water in some areas, it spells electoral doom in others.

In short, the America of tomorrow does not look approvingly at the GOP's penchant for social rightism.

None too few believe that Republicans can find victory by adopting a more lenient position on illegal immigration. In so many words, this means devising an amnesty program of some kind. A mistake of that magnitude would ensure the GOP long term electoral defeat for two reasons.

The first is that working class voters would have newfound competition for already scarce jobs. That alone is certain to disenfranchise them from voting Republican. After all, if the supposed party of law-and-order isn't looking out for them, why on earth should they support it?

Secondly, pro-amnesty legislation would mean untold millions of new American citizens. Most illegals are impoverished, and have little adversity to government handouts. It is not difficult to guess which political party they are likely to become loyal members of.

Keeping all of this in mind, what should the GOP do next year?

The most obvious strategy is working on its outreach toward philosophically diverse audiences. Right-of-center fiscal policies have enduring appeal, and if articulated correctly, can attract swing voters. However, the social baggage which many Republican candidates drag into the fray make this next to impossible.

It is a difficult but inescapable reality that the GOP's socially rightist faction, which is propelled by religious fundamentalists, prevents Republicans from securing gains far too often. As America becomes a more secular, tolerant nation, the GOP hierarchy will be faced with a crucial decision.

Will they continue catering to a small, insular segment of the electorate that considers compromise to be treacherous? Or, will they search for new opportunities with social libertarians and progressives who embrace fiscal restraint as well as a strong national security plan?

The latter choice, when evaluated on a rational basis, is the clear one. Of course, activists in the so-called conservative movement will not like this one bit. They are still enamored with their mythicized visions of the Ronald Reagan Era, after all.

Accept it or not, Reagan was elected president almost 35 years ago. Since then, America has changed, in many respects, beyond recognition. Restoring his ideals might seem great in theory, but is essentially impossible in practice.

If the Republican Party wishes to remain viable in the 21st century, it must get with the times. Failure to do this seems like a sure way to install a permanent Democratic majority, and usher in an era even more hyper-partisan than the current one.

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Copyright 2015 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at joseph.f.cotto@gmail.com.

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