Opinion

Relevance of Republicans in Washington politics | Roegner

Has the Republican Party become irrelevant? The Republican candidate for governor in the last election is among those asking.

Our nation has long had a two-party system of Democrats and Republicans. It’s our way of keeping one party from gaining too much power or becoming too extreme.

But Republican candidates for president have lost the popular vote in five of the past six elections over a 20-year period. They won only one statewide office in Washington last fall.

And in Rob McKenna, Republicans had their best candidate for governor since John Spellman was elected 30 years ago. McKenna lost, and now some Republicans are questioning whether their historical viewpoints on same-sex marriage, abortion, immigration and taxation have become too extreme for the changing population.

Of significant concern is that local and statewide candidates for office are hampered by the national Republican brand.

After four years of angry attacks regarding birth certificates, death squads, seccession if we don’t win, and calling the president a socialist and a Muslim, Republicans at the national level are perceived as the party of “angry, rich, white guys.” It may not be fully accurate, but it is a difficult perception to overcome.

Worse for Republicans is that the math is against them. By 2043, whites will be in the minority. Statistics show Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic population and they have voted overwhelmingly Democratic. Latinos make up 11 percent of our state’s voters and many have viewed Republican candidates as wanting to put walls around the country to keep them out — or worse, force them to leave. They voted 3-1 for Democrat Jay Inslee for governor.

The older generations of Asians were interested in foreign policy and might have leaned Republican. But the younger generation is more interested in domestic issues and are more Democratic. Asians make up 7 percent of the state vote. The Latino and Asian vote was one-sided enough to give Inslee the win. To his credit, McKenna worked Latino and Asian voters very hard, but he couldn’t get past the national Republican image.

McKenna told the Yakima Republic-Herald “the GOP risks relevance.” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal went farther, saying they have to “stop being the stupid party,” referring to several embarrassing comments by Republican candidates. Many of those comments alienated women, particularly single women, who went 54 percent Democratic. And in some states, Republicans tried to suppress voter turnout, which could have disenfranchised minorities and poor people, typically Democratic voters. But how does a candidate like McKenna try and cross over to sell his platform to those groups when someone else from his party is trying to limit their right to vote?

Going into the election, Republicans not only expected to claim the presidency, governorship and some of the statewide offices, but they also expected to win the state Senate and had hopes of winning the House. The only position they won at the polls was Secretary of State.

Here in Federal Way, a well-respected Republican House member, Katrina Asay, lost. Linda Kochmar, a 14-year city council member, barely won to fill an open seat. Federal Way used to be very conservative Republican territory. Now it leans Democratic. Democrats are probably already looking for a candidate to challenge Kochmar in two years. Republicans outnumber Democrats in non-partisan local offices, but that may not last long.

This country and this state need a two-party system and the Republicans are right to ask themselves what went wrong.

Republicans don’t need to be another version of the Democrats. Their core beliefs in fiscal restraint, low taxes, pro-family, pro-business and a strong military are valid political values and could attract new voters.

But to compete, they are going to have to show flexibility and sincerity. Attacking the 47 percent was fatal when they needed a positive economic message for the middle class. Demonizing Planned Parenthood alienated women. And attacking same-sex marriage offended many conservative gays. The Republicans’ recent movement on immigration was positive, but it reeked of politics, not understanding.

At their recent conference in Ocean Shores to talk about ideas for improvement, they raised $10,000 to donate to charities on behalf of the Northwest Republican Community Fund. That may have been well intended, but it will reinforce their negative image of rich people trying to buy poor people rather than actually understanding the lives that poor people lead.

A former adviser to President Ronald Reagan said that “to win, a party has to reflect the nation it seeks to lead.” In simple terms, the Republicans haven’t changed, and the country has.

Republicans need to redefine their message and goals. One Republican said “Republicans talk policy, while Democrats talk people.” He’s right. Republicans need to engage the people they are trying to recruit by showing they understand their needs and values. Most Latinos are Catholic and conservative, and Asians are open to a middle class economic message. Stop alienating single women, and follow Jindal’s advice and stop nominating candidates who pass a purity test but say really dumb things and can’t win.

While many Republicans are looking for new ideas that might improve election results, that viewpoint has not gone unchallenged by the Tea Party movement. They threaten mainstream Republicans — who might actually cooperate with Democrats to help govern — with running a Tea Party member against them in the primary. They talk about changing the rules on how the electoral college votes are distributed after a loss, so that they can win next time without a popular vote mandate. The public is becoming cynical to that approach.

They note that the mid-term elections in two years will help them. Historically that is accurate, but that may also be fool’s gold. The real test comes in 2016. By then if the Republicans haven’t improved their message, it may be too late. By 2016, Arizona, Florida and Texas will be in play for Democrats due to Latino population growth. Small wonder that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida is seen by many as the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president.

And the Democratic dominance here in Washington will continue and willfully take hold in Federal Way unless changes are made.

To achieve change, Republicans must actually listen and adjust. It can’t be just changing the message. The public understands “spin control.” The continued internal fight only benefits Democrats, and we need two strong parties with clear debatable points of view.

What’s more important, changing with the times and being part of governing? Or holding to a purity test and making McKenna’s relevancy question become reality?

 

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