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What a difference a year makes

What a difference a year makes.  Just after Mitt Romney lost his race against President Obama many in the Republican Party began asking the question, “where to next?”  This prompted a lot of soul searching.  The Chairman of the National Republican Committee even commissioned a study to recommend ways for the party to better connect with the voters.  There was something wrong with the Republican brand, and the party, in a unique bit of introspection, wanted to find a new course.  These were big words, and they were compelling.  Many Republicans talked about the importance of reaching out to Hispanics and African-Americans. They also wanted to improve their standing with women voters. At the same time, worried that they weren’t succeeding in repealing the Affordable Care Act, some thought that maybe it was time to try a different strategy.  Perhaps the better approach was to work to change and even improve what they considered to be a flawed initiative.  It was a heady few months, but almost as rapidly as this soul searching and quest for a new direction began, it ran out of steam.

However, it would be wrong to say there wasn’t some progress. Republican and Democratic members of the Senate worked together to craft and pass an immigration reform bill.  This was important if the GOP was to expand its appeal with Hispanic voters. Unfortunately, when the bill got to the House it stalled. The GOP majority, and in particular the Tea Party conservatives, weren’t receptive.  Now, its unlikely that an immigration reform bill will ever be passed.  Sadly, the image of the Republican Party being anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant remains firmly in place.  With over 50 million Americans, all potential voters, having Hispanic roots, this isn’t good politics.

African-Americans didn’t fare much better.  After the 2012 election, there was talk about reaching out to black voters, but the reality was that legislatures with GOP majorities, including North Carolina, Virginia, and even Pennsylvania and Ohio, went the extra mile to create twists and turns in the voting laws to help discourage African-American voters. It was shameful and further damaged the Republican Party’s already battered image with black voters.  

Women didn’t do much better.  Again, primarily in states with Republican-dominated legislatures, statehouses passed a series of highly restrictive abortion laws. In Virginia, in perhaps the most extreme example of this trend, the General Assembly almost passed a “personhood law” which could have led to banning birth control. It was great fodder for late night television. For many this was over the top and the result has been a precipitous decline in support for the GOP amongst women voters. Given that women voters outnumber men, this isn’t doing the Republicans any good at all.

This was bad enough, but in what’s been a rough year for the GOP, things only got worse. Far from taking the talked-about positive approach to the Affordable Health Care Act, the Republican majority in the House decided it was all or nothing. They held up a continuing resolution to fund the government until the President agreed to support defunding Obamacare. The outcome is one we know all too well. The government shutdown cost the American taxpayer $24 billion and ended with no change to the President’s signature domestic accomplishment. It’s hard to imagine how the Republicans could have a worse year.

However, the Republican Party is still powerful. They control the House of Representatives, and though they may take some hits in 2014, they will probably hang onto to their majority. As for the Senate, currently controlled by Democrats, they could well win it back next year. But, that’s in the short term. They have already shown their weakness when it comes to winning national elections.  During the past 21 years, covering six Presidential elections, the Republican Party has only won a majority in one of them. It won’t be that long until this trend finds its way into other elections. Unless they’re willing to expand their base and move away from their fondness for fringe politics, their future in the long term isn’t going to be a good one.

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