Diwate:The Republican Party, changing policies and Conservative Political Action Conference


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The Republican party saw seven swing states go to the Democrats in the 2012 election, as well as a decline in votes from minorities. While the party is often called out of touch, there have been some advances.

Varad Diwate

“Focus groups described our party as ‘narrow-minded,’ ‘out of touch’ and as ‘stuffy old men.’ The perception that we’re the party of the rich continues to grow,” said Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee chairman, on the GOP’s assessment after the last presidential election.

In this election, the Republican Party saw seven of the nine swing states going to the Democrats and a declining vote among minorities. These results prompted the GOP to rethink its policies and strategies. The “Growth and Opportunity Project,” an assessment report talks about the need to reach minorities, young people and women.

But it is mostly a superficial analysis, as the report once again talks about the “messaging” problem and recommends solutions along the same lines. It does not talk about specific Republican positions on social issues and their resonance with the public. There is still an “America is center-right” assumption.

Now, the Republican party seems to be working through the dilemma of keeping the traditional votes and appealing to diverse groups with new positions on social issues.

Resistance to change is quite evident as the GOP still clings to its unscientific positions on evolution and climate change. The rising star of the Republican Party, Marco Rubio, said on evolution, “I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says; I can tell you what the Bible says; but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians. Whether the Earth was created in seven days or seven actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”

He also had something interesting to say on climate change, “I understand people say there’s a significant, scientific consensus on that issue, but I’ve actually seen reasonable debate on that principle.”

So, is it still a messaging problem, or is someone absolutely wrong on the facts? Rubio neatly steered away from the issues that required clear answers. Not that the mentioned issues are sole election issues, but these are examples of bizarre positions which are supposed to, somehow, convince people.

Any sort of change in an organization needs to be convincing to everyone from the very bottom. In this case, the Republican Party has to assess the views of core conservatives. However, change, or even an initiative for change, seems to be difficult when many conservatives still want to hold onto their principles.

A good place to start assessing party opinions and positions would be the prominent conservative platform: Conservative Political Action Conference. Conservative Political Action Conference 2013 was held last month and attended by the who’s who of the conservative movement. The Conservative Political Action Conference held onto its old guards by inviting Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, among others.

Conservative Political Action Conference speakers and panels center around the usual talking points: need for smaller government, lower taxes, less regulation, role of faith and abortion. The Conservative Political Action Conference is mostly in the news for some controversial or incorrect claims in speeches used to rile up the audience. This 40th anniversary year was not much different with Michele Bachmann’s claims about Benghazi and food stamps.

The idea behind the Conservative Political Action Conference could be summed up from Marco Rubio’s speech, “And there’s the fallacy of it. We don’t need a new idea. There is an idea: the idea is called America, and it still works.” Such a conviction in itself shuts down any possibility for a critical evaluation.

An event at Conservative Political Action Conference 2013 was titled “Trump the Race Card: Are You Sick and Tired of Being Called a Racist and You Know You’re Not One?” This event was disrupted by someone who defended segregation. Interestingly, last year, two white nationalists were part of a panel discussion called “The failure of multiculturalism: How the pursuit of diversity is weakening American Identity.” The names of these events sufficiently highlight the need for minority outreach.

These are, of course, anecdotal examples. Such extreme fringes might please some voters, but giving a voice to outright-racist groups is only going to cancel out any trace of a positive image for minorities.

With a lot of resistance, there has been a willingness to budge on the immigration and same-sex marriage issues. The rapidly-changing demographics have not left much room to completely reject immigration reform. Gallup polls over the years shows steadily increasing support for same-sex marriage. The shift of public opinion on this issue has prompted more Republicans to reconsider their stand. Even the Conservative Political Action Conference saw a well-attended gay supporter’s event and a nearly empty opponents event.

The Chariot card in a Tarot deck shows a carriage being pulled in two different directions by two horses. The result? It cannot go anywhere. The Republican Party also seems to be in the same quandary. It cannot go ahead when being pulled towards older ideas and taking a progressive stance at the same time.

Varad Diwate is a freshman in journalism from Nashik, India.