Coalition is the Key
Republicans have already begun the process of looking for a way out of the box they’ve put themselves in. Fox News host Sean Hannity did an abrupt about-face Thursday, declaring that he now supports a path to citizenship for undocumented aliens. Meghan McCain, the daughter of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has called on the party to move away from divisive social issues. There is a growing realization among party leaders that they will have to change course.
The problem for Republicans is that, like all parties, they have built a coalition, and the furthest-right elements of the party have been driving the platform the last few years. Nativists may not be enough to win the election, but they still represent a loud and vocal component of the party, one that can’t simply be ignored. Christian Conservatives may be unable to deliver the general election, but they can make life tough on any Republican who is impure on abortion or gay rights.
This pushback has already begun. No sooner had Hannity made his pronouncement than Rep. Steve King, R-Ia., blasted Republicans who want “citizenship for illegals.” The Tea Party has spent the past four years pushing an extreme version of ideological purity on the party. They will not stop simply because they lost this year.
If Republicans reverse course on same-sex marriage or abortion rights or affirmative action, it would be good for the country and the party’s long-term future — but in the short term, these changes would produce howls of indignation, outright revolt or a fracturing of the party.
Republicans are not the first party to face such a challenge. In 1948, Democrats had a large base of support among segregationists. That year, the party finally began to move to work against segregation and to embrace civil rights.
It took courage to stand up to them, courage to tell them that however many votes they delivered, their positions were simply anathema to liberty. Segregationists howled, revolted and eventually left the party altogether. The Democrats did the right thing for the country, and three generations later, those decisions have built a new, stronger and ascendant coalition, one built on notions of tolerance, equality and pluralism. Republicans now have a choice to make: eject the bigots from their party, or accept that they are going to become less and less relevant as the years go on.
Eventually, Republicans will seek to find a new coalition, or a new party will spring up to replace them; America is not going to become a one-party state. That does not mean the process will be easy or quick, however. For the Grand Old Party to move forward, they will have to break faith with part of their coalition. That may be good for them long-term, but it could also cause them to lose for a generation — maybe two.
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