The Republicans are up against the ropes. After an election cycle in which the Republicans felt that a clean sweep was inevitable, the reality that the Republicans now only hold control in the House due to gerrymandering has not been lost on them. From state-based attempts to change the way electoral votes are allocated to aggressive schemes to disenfranchise likely-Democratic voters, the Republican leadership has pursued nearly every avenue to regain relevancy in spite of an ever-shifting voting demographic. However, the Republicans have rarely looked internally towards targeting what must change.
This may change.
The largest donors in the Republican Party have banded together toward establishing discipline among potential Republican candidates. This group, the Conservative Victory Project, has been created to counter the actions of other organizations — such as the Tea Party — whose candidates have defeated established Republican candidates in primaries, but lack the appeal to win the general election.
The collapse of the Tea Party in the 2012 general elections exposed a flaw in the thinking among Republicans that conservatism is the way of the future. Embarrassing gaffes regarding rape and pregnancy from candidates such as Todd Akin (R-Mo.) and Richard Mourdock (R-Ind.) — whom, in his campaign, suggested that pregnancy due to rape was “something God intended” — casted a pallor that tainted not only their campaigns, but the entire national Republican effort. In light of upcoming races to replace Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) — both of which announced their retirement last month — it is felt that the party must embrace the Buckley Rule in order to take control of the Senate in 2014.
The Buckley Rule — named after conservative leader and National Review publisher William F. Buckley — states that the party should support the most conservative candidate who can win. This runs afoul of the Reagan Rule, which states that no Republican shall speak ill of another Republican.
The Republican Party under the Buckley rule
The Republicans have made it their agenda to go after control of the Senate for the 2014 midterm elections. As Republican control of the House is assured by means of aggressively-biased redistricting efforts in 2011, the House will not become competitive again until at least 2022. According to the current membership, the Republicans need six seats to take over the majority in the Senate.
In their pursuit toward strengthening the Republican mainstream, many members of the Tea Party may be singled out by the Conservative Victory Project. One possible early target is Steve King (R-Iowa), a six-time representative that is thought to be a potential candidate for Harkin’s seat. Even though he has not announced his candidacy, the Conservative Victory Project has already targeted him with aggressive campaigning tactics — including television ads — toward painting King as being unfit to serve in the Senate. Steven Law, president of American Crossroad — the SuperPAC behind the Conservative Victory Project — said, “We’re concerned about Steve King’s Todd Akin problem. This is an example of candidate discipline and how it would play in a general election. All of the things he’s said are going to be hung around his neck.”
King has proven to be controversial. With a record of incendiary statements such as comparing immigrants to dogs and verbally complaining about the installation of green-friendly lightbulbs in the Capitol — calling the maintenance workers “Stasi troops” — the Republican leadership considers him problematic. But, he begs to differ.
“This is a decision for Iowans to make and should not be guided by some political staffers in Washington,” King stated in an interview. “The last election, they said I couldn’t win that, either, and the entire machine was against me.”
Not everyone agrees with the Conservative Victory Project. Some — such as Story County, Iowa Republican Party’s chairman Cory Adams feel that such actions deny the public the chance to meet and vet the candidates independently. “If he wants to run for the Senate, he should be allowed to run. The more people get to know him, the more they will like him.”
Grover Norquist, the head of Americans For Tax Reform, feels that discipline in candidate selection is a good idea, but it shouldn’t be limited to the tea party. “People are imagining a problem that doesn’t exist. We’ve had people challenge the establishment guy and do swimmingly.”
Chambliss is best known for his efforts toward finding a bipartisan deficit reduction compromise as part of the “Gang of Six.” With his retirement, the race to fill his seat has framed itself to be a war among the Republicans — wiith Tea Party-backed organizations previously posing a possible primary challenge to Chambliss over possible tax rate increases as part of a comprehensive deficit package. Rep. Tom Price and Paul Broun (R-Ga.) have expressed their intent to challenge Chambliss.
Chambliss pointed out that his decision to retire was not based on potential primary challenges. “Lest anyone think this decision is about a primary challenge, I have no doubt that had I decided to be a candidate, I would have won re-election,” he said. “In these difficult political times, I am fortunate to have actually broadened my support around the state and the nation due to the stances I have taken. Instead, this is about frustration, both at a lack of leadership from the White House and at the dearth of meaningful action from Congress.”
Potential candidates for Chambliss’ seat include Price and Broun, former presidential candidate Herman Cain, and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel. The Democrats expressed interest in the seat, but it is unlikely that the Democrats can secure it.
The future of the Grand Ol’ Party
As reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 53 percent of all Americans see the Republican Party as too extreme, as of December 2012. In light of delays in approving Hurricane Sandy relief to the Northeast, delaying tactics for the fiscal-cliff and debt limit negotiations, and a hardline approach to gun controls, this perception is likely to increase.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) wrote about his take on the future of the GOP: “Election night results have forced me to rethink everything I understood about how America makes political decisions. Unless Republicans profoundly and deeply rethink their assumptions and study what the Democrats have been doing the future could become very bleak and the Clinton-Obama majority could become as dominant as the Roosevelt majority was from 1932 to 1968 presidentially and from 1930 to 1994 in the House of Representatives.”
With a major proportion of minorities not voting with the Republicans in 2012, with more and more states becoming “minority-majority” states, and with the United States — according to the US Census Bureau — slated to have a “minority-majority” population by 2043, the Republicans may be facing their demise as a major party unless serious policy changes occur.
During the Republican National Committee’s Winter Meeting, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) called on his fellow Republicans to look forward. “We must stop being the stupid party. We must stop looking backward. We must stop insulting the intelligence of voters.”
Jindal went on to say, “We must compete for every single vote: the 47 percent and the 53 percent and any other combination of numbers that adds up to 100 percent,” referring to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s claim that a certain section of voters will never accept Republican policies. Jindal stated that Republicans “must reject the notion that demography is destiny, the pathetic and simplistic notion that skin pigmentation dictates voter behavior. We must treat all people as individuals rather than as members of special interest groups.”
Monday on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends”, Jindal decried the notion of non-stop campaigning, “Anybody on the Republican side even thinking or talking about running for president in 2016, I’ve said needs to get their head examined and the reason I say that is we’ve lost two presidential elections in a row. We need to be winning the debate of ideas — then we’ll win elections …The country doesn’t need four years of nonstop presidential — we just inaugurated a new term of this president’s second term.” Jindal is seen as a leading candidate for the 2016 Republican nomination for president.
The very same mechanism that protected the Republicans’ control of the House — gerrymandering — may be the element that blocks Republican policy evolution. For example, in Georgia in 2012, of the eight Republican-held House seats, three were uncontested. The other five were won by Republicans in excess of 40 percentage points. In this situation, there is no fear of being voted out of office, so these Republicans have little incentive to reinvent. Without an electoral incentive to shift strategy, it is unlikely that the Republican can change.
However, with the realization that white votes are not enough to win elections anymore, the Republicans are showing signs of reacting to the shifting winds.
The Senate is currently positioned to pass a bipartisanly-authored immigration reform bill that mirrors the DREAM Act, which the Republicans soundly defeated in 2011. However, the House — which is slated to start its consideration of the act Tuesday — has shown indications that it may not accept the Senate’s version of the bill. According to House Judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), “I am confident that we will pass legislation dealing with immigration, but I don’t know the extent of what we can do yet, because the members need to be educated, the issues need to be discussed, and a lot of questions need to be answered about where on a spectrum between deportation and citizenship we can find common ground to bring people who are living in the shadows out of the shadows.”