Tom Davis, a Republican and now former Representative from Virginia, has some interesting thoughts as to why the Republicans have suffered losses for two national elections in a row and what Republicans might do to make themselves more attractive to voters. Davis appears to have a reasonable handle on the primary problems plaguing the Republican Party. Writing for the Ripon Society's Ripon Forum, Davis offered these thoughts, among others, in an article that is worth reading in its entirety:
"(Republicans) fought communism and won. We fought stagnation brought on by high taxes and restrictive government policies. (snip) With the heavy lifting out of the way, we indulged in more trivial pursuits – and this led to trouble. We talked to ourselves and not to voters. We became more concerned with stem cell policy than economic policy, and with prayer in schools rather than balance in our public budgets and priorities. Not so long ago, it was easy to paint the Democrats as the party of extremists. Now, they say we're extremists, and voters agree."
"As a result, we've seen our support erode. Urban centers remain under Democratic control. Exurbs and rural areas remain under Republican dominance. But in the battleground that lies between – the suburbs -- we were winning them; now we're not. Our candidates are safe in a swath that extends from North Texas across to North Alabama and up through Appalachia. Elsewhere, we are on the run. Almost every voter who can be convinced – who sometimes votes Democratic, sometimes Republican – now votes Democratic."
Davis offers up some sound advice for his fellow Republicans:
"First, we eliminate checklists and litmus tests and focus on broad principles, not heavy-handed prescriptions. Free trade. Strong defense – at home and abroad. Government as small as is practicable in these times. Economic, education and energy policies that promote growth, energy independence and a competitive agenda that will allow businesses to grow and compete, not be protected by artificial barriers."
"Second, remind ourselves the first principle of conservatism is not tax cuts or free trade or even smaller government. It is prudence, and prudence should be our guide."
Davis was absolutely right in his charge that Republicans have been talking to each other and not voters. Perhaps that's their biggest problem of all; their ability to communicate has been hampered by a vast echo chamber of Right-wing media outlets, pundits, and other public figures who all toe the same lines, to the exclusion of all others. This echo chamber may have once been effective as a sort of recruiting tool for the conservative movement, but it is a hostile environment for any truly independent thought. It became a force too powerful for its own good as it took on a life of its own and bred a culture of intolerance, arrogance, and certitude.
Davis offers up a smart assessment of the Republican Party's current situation. But will today's Republicans listen? Given the fervor with which the Republican base threw its support behind the woefully ignorant Sarah Palin (as opposed to the actual Presidential Candidate, John McCain) literally overnight, as if they were so many dogs trained to roll over on command, one might reasonably conclude that the stringent qualifications for membership in today's Republican Party have marginalized its thoughtful and intelligent members (that is, the ones who haven't left the party altogether). Couple that with many conservative pundits' assessments that Palin/McCain lost because the weren't conservative enough and it is hard to see how this trend will change course any time soon.