Is the Religious Right wrong for the GOP?

I knew it was only a matter of time before my fellow Republicans started taking pot shots at us religious conservatives; blaming us for the outcome of this most recent election. (See Kathleen Parker: Religious right threatens Republican Party’s future)

Is it just me or wasn’t the man at the top of our ticket a guy who took great pride in the fact that he was not a member of the Christian right? And wasn’t his campaign run by folks like Steve Schmitt, who did everything possible to run their candidate as anything but a conservative Republican? Face it, this was the year of the “Moderate Republican” and they lost.

The only reason it was as close as it was, was because of the addition of Sarah Palin to the ticket. We all watched as crowds cheered, donors gave and volunteers flooded the campaign. Why were they doing this? It was because this young energetic PRO-LIFE, PRO-GUN, PRO-MARRIAGE, CONSERVATIVE woman was now on the ticket. Like her or not, Sarah Palin brought energy and excitement to this presidential election at levels her more moderate running mate could not. And had it not been for the conservative haters in the campaign undermining her at every turn, the ticket might have done even better.

But let’s be honest, considering the level of Obamania that swept the country and the media, an almost $1 billion war chest and a meltdown of the financial markets; Ronald Regan- heck, even Abraham Lincoln couldn’t have won. So, I don’t blame John McCain. But to blame religious conservatives for the state of our party is just plain wrong.

I believe that there are two primary culprits to this meltdown.

The first is Republicans not walking the talk. We claimed to be about smaller government, but the greatest expansion of government spending happened under our watch. We claim to be about family values, but we had leaders propositioning congressional pages and playing footsies in the men’s room. We claimed to be the party of “Ethics and Moral Values”, meanwhile members of our party are being run out of office (some to jail) under corruption charges. We claim to be a party who supports equality for all, but we can’t seem to find our way to some communities until we need their vote. To make a long story short, we lost because we governed like democrats.

The second culprit is the GOP infighting. Moderates blame conservatives, stating that the only way to win is to abandon our socially conservative principles and change the party platform. Then conservatives fire back, questioning the “Republicanism” of anyone who disagrees with them on anything. We become the proverbial circular firing squad shooting at each other instead of the Democrats. If we are to turn this around two things are going to have to happen. First, moderates need to stop attacking our conservative values. Conservatives make up the core to of the GOP’s base. We are the meat and potatoes, moderates are the side dish. So, stop trying to change the platform. Likewise, conservatives must realize that not everyone is going to score 100% on the conservative values test. The party platform is the measuring stick we should use when judging our candidates. But we must also keep in mind that in some cases the perfect Republican candidate will not be the perfect Republican. Believe it or not, one can be a fiscal conservative and social moderate and still be convicted of being a Republican. In the infamous words of Mr. King (Rodney that is) “Can’t we all just get along?”

However, there is a silver lining to this rather dark cloud. The best solution for the syndrome that now ails the Republican party past has always been a Democratic administration. Nothing brings combatants together like a common enemy.

Let us not forget that Jimmy Carter helped us usher in the Regan Revolution. Then there was Bill Clinton’s liberal leadership, which led to the Contract With America. The election of Barack Obama could turn out to be best thing that could have happened to the GOP. That is, if we can learn to get along, govern according to our values and take a serious look at how we plan to attract new Republican voters.

So, what will Republican need to do to attract these new voters? We need to go to where they are; to get to understand their issues; and then, effectively communicate how our common conservative values can produce societal and public policy solutions to the challenges they face.

We have a lot of heavy lifting to do to rebuild our party. And if we are to be successful, it will not be as some sort of “Democrat-Lite” Party. “All the liberal values without the annoying tax increases.” It will be because we have committed the resources necessary to build relationships with voters and have focused our message on shared values of family, opportunity and freedom as it applies to all Americans.

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I don’t think the religious right is what’s wrong with the Republican Party. What is wrong with the Republican party is not just the inconsistency between the symbols and messages of the party and its practices; its not just the infighting between the moderates and conservatives (which has occured since the party’s founding and, coincidentially, near the turn of the last century as well after a big war (WWI) and an electoral trouncing). What is wrong is that people are attracted to hope – not hate. They eventually get around to understanding that fear is not a long-term strategy; that when times get tough, they want to hold onto something that will bring them together and get them through the bad times.

Following 9/11, the Republicans established a good short run strategy centered around fear: fear of terrorist attacks; fear of those “other” people, and a false sense that hugging the flag like Linus and his blanket would make the bad people and things go away. This extreme Nationalist agenda practiced by the conservative right- punctuated by discussions of immigration reform; xenephobia; analyzing how one sang the anthem or whether he wore a flag pin on his lapel; who crosses their heart for the pledge; and questioning the patriotism of here-to-fore patriotic leaders. This strategy got them through the 2002 and 2004 elections but by 2006, the American people began to get wise to this strategy. Some of us began to look around and realize that the extreme nationalism practiced by conservatives in America in the late 20th and early 21st Century was counterproductive – and was even shunned by our founding fathers who themselves believed that dissent and protest were inherent rights and part of exercising true patriotic spirit and duty.

(Actually, this type of politics had its start before 9/11. George Bush I hired a young southerner named Lee Atwater, and he pioneered the sleaze, win-at-all-costs politics of the political right in the mid 80s. Its funny, Lee Atwater died knowing his brand of politics was ill-conceived; I guess Karl Rove missed that memo. Thank you Lee Atwater!)

Where were we? Oh yeah, why Republicans lost: Republicans lost not because their ideas were bad – they lost because no one ever got to discuss their ideas, because we were too busy focusing on people’s patriotism, and whether they were socialist, fascist, or Maoist, than whether their ideas were good for America. We were more concerned about to whom they prayed and less about what they prayed for.

There is an old saying: Great minds talk about ideas; average minds talk about events; and small minds talk about people. This is the yardstick of political success- and y’all just don’t measure up.