4. Finding a voice on gay marriage. Do Republicans have to embrace gay marriage in order to win the votes of gays or not to scare social moderates? It won’t happen and it’s probably not necessary. If they would just back off the support of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, that will go a long way. They can say that it isn’t going to happen for them to do so politically. And they can fall back on states’ rights, saying that it’s not up to Washington to decide this matter.
This might anger social conservatives, but it’s more or less an acceptance of reality. The constitutional amendment banning gay marriage can’t pass and the Supreme Court could well strike down the Defense of Marriage Act — meaning that the federal government will have to recognize same sex marriages. The Roberts Court is more likely to uphold California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage — practically inviting conservatives to join the fray in the states rather than in D.C.
None of this will be easy for the conservative Right to swallow, but it’s not unlike the abortion issue. Conservatives no longer realistically expect a constitutional amendment to ban abortion or even to overturn Roe. They’ve recognized that the fight is in the states. If they come to the same conclusion regarding gay marriage, it’ll free the GOP from one of its many burdens.
5. A governing party, not a protest party. The Republican Party has been primarily a protest party over the past two years, filibustering in the Senate and holding the debt ceiling and the budget hostage. At some point, they’ll have to become a conservative governing party that doesn’t mess with the debt limit or government shutdowns and instead finds other ways to pursue its agenda like, oh, persuasion. If this sounds like the political equivalent of telling a child to “Use your words,” it kind of is. But this shouldn’t be that hard. A Rob Portman party is going to find greater success than a Tim Huelskamp party.
6. You’ve already raised taxes on the rich. The president is insisting that additional deficit reduction be “balanced” through revenue increases and spending cuts. But Republicans have already raised taxes on the rich, and this takes a huge weight off of their shoulders. The whole “millionaires and billionaires” rhetoric has been taken out of Obama’s hands. Without that cudgel, Republicans are freer to take a harder line on taxes. Yes, they may have to see some deductions go, but House Speaker John Boehner already said he had $800 billion of those lined up. Even if Boehner’s numbers are hyped, Republicans can give some more on deductions and then hold the line on rates. They already gave at the office.
7. ‘Pro-life,’ not pro-Akin. Many states have governors who oppose legalized abortion. It’s not a killer issue, even in the liberal northeast where New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie hasn’t paid a price for his position. What whacked the part was the casual comments about rape and the policies behind it. Backing off that incendiary rhetoric and unpopular position could leave the party with its anti-legal-abortion base but without Todd Akin’s crazy talk about “legitimate rape.”
Out-of-power parties have to recalibrate but not necessarily retrench. Tony Blair did it with Britain’s Labor Party, as did David Cameron, the head of its Conservative Party. When you stop believing your only problem is communication and take a look at the policies that are doing you in, you have a chance at a comeback. The Republican Party has great strengths in a country with a deep libertarian streak. It’s not a goner any more than the Democrats were in 1972. The GOP can be competitive and it won’t take that much to make it so.