Get rid of the radicals


Republican Party goers look at results from the U.S. presidential election in Salt Lake City, Utah, November 6, 2012.

Article Highlights

  • It is clear that the election results have brought about a serious soul-searching in the Republican party.

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  • The nomination process must be refined and reorganized for the presidential nomination and other offices.

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  • The Republican party needs to abandon the tribal approach of the past four years writes @AEI’s Norman Ornstein.

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Editors Note: This piece originally appeared in The New York Times' Room for Debate as a response to the question: What next for the G.O.P.?

What next for the G.O.P.?

President Obama’s sweeping re-election victory stunned many in the Republican Party. They were left wondering whether the issues and tactics that proved so successful for them in the past are now too divisive and unattractive for a changed electorate. Some have said the problem was that Mitt Romney was a weak candidate. But others say it’s time for the party to make fundamental changes. What does the G.O.P. need to do over the next four years if it wants to take back the White House?

What should Republicans do to get back in the game? It is clear that the election results, which came as a genuine shock to a raft of G.O.P. insiders and pros — astonishingly so, given the Intrade markets and the raft of nonpartisan polls and forecasts — has brought about a serious soul-searching in the party. It needs to be refined and reorganized in two areas.

First is the nomination process, for both the presidential nomination and other offices from the U.S. Senate and the House on down. The G.O.P. has effectively been captured and dominated by its right-right wing — as opposed to its right wing or its center-right wing. When a party faces the spectacle of all its presidential candidates pledging in a primary debate that they would not accept a deal of $1 in taxes for $10 in budget cuts, and rejecting any candidate who acknowledges that scientists might have something to say about the climate, and when a party purges upstanding, problem-solving conservatives like Bob Bennett of Utah, Richard Lugar of Indiana and Bob Inglis of South Carolina, it has a big problem. At the presidential level, a move to more superdelegates, party leaders and elected officials, to temper the power of the lunatic fringe, would help (while keeping in mind that many of the right-right wingers have now been elected to office through the current process.)

Second, the party needs to abandon the tribal approach of the past four years — "if President Obama and Democrats are for it, we are against it (even if we were for it yesterday)." A party that puts its own short-term political advantage ahead of solving problems for the country, that puts obstruction ahead of compromise, will win elections only if it can manipulate the process or wait for catastrophe great enough that voters will accept any alternative. That kind of party will provide a huge weight around the neck of any presidential candidate, even a reasonable one. Moving to compromise on health reform implementation, election reform, campaign finance disclosure, fiscal restraint, infrastructure, financial regulation, housing policy and other areas, where traditional conservative and market-oriented approaches can be blended in to make centrist policy, would re-establish Republicans as a problem-solving, not radical, party.

Finally, the party needs to ignore the radicals like Sean Hannity and Charles Krauthammer who think that if only Republicans could get an immigration bill passed, all would be fine, Hispanics would come back in enough numbers to win 50.1%, and no other change is necessary. If I were a Democratic strategist, I would be elated if that approach prevailed.

Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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About the Author


Norman J.
  • Norman Ornstein is a long-time observer of Congress and politics. He is a contributing editor and columnist for National Journal and The Atlantic and is an election eve analyst for BBC News. He served as codirector of the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project and participates in AEI's Election Watch series. He also served as a senior counselor to the Continuity of Government Commission. Mr. Ornstein led a working group of scholars and practitioners that helped shape the law, known as McCain-Feingold, that reformed the campaign financing system. He was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004. His many books include The Permanent Campaign and Its Future (AEI Press, 2000); The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, with Thomas E. Mann (Oxford University Press, 2006, named by the Washington Post one of the best books of 2006 and called by The Economist "a classic"); and, most recently, the New York Times bestseller, It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, also with Tom Mann, published in May 2012 by Basic Books. It was named as one of 2012's best books on pollitics by The New Yorker and one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post.
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