With any luck, 2012 will serve as the wake-up call for the Republican Party. For the second time in a row and the fourth time in their last five presidential nominees, they've been rejected by the American electorate – and the other time they needed a Supreme Court ruling to get their nominee into office for his first term after he lost the popular vote and our state of Florida was unable to determine who'd won here. These failures are despite relative success in both chambers of Congress and growing power in state legislatures and governorships. It's time for Republicans to take a look at why they are unable to connect with the American people on a national level and decide what to do about it.
If I had to sum up the 2012 election, I'd put it like this: Democrats had a frustrated and embattled incumbent, who was about as vulnerable as a sitting president without a sex scandal can be, and Republicans still were unable to agree on a candidate within their party ranks that had a chance at beating him. Why? Because the party is increasingly dominated by its base in the primary process, rendering all of the candidates with the best chance of getting elected in the general election nonstarters. I couldn't help but get the feeling, especially in the final weeks, that undecided voters weren't running toward Barack Obama or even away from Mitt Romney – they were rejecting the platform of the Republican Party and all of the backward, discriminatory and regressive priorities that it has embraced in order to placate vocal members on the far right.
I used to like the Republican Party. In fact, prior to becoming an independent, I used to be a Republican. But the things that appealed to me are either no longer present, or buried under so many deal-breakers that their presence has been rendered moot. To that, the party as a whole pretty much says, so be it – it's my fault I don't see things their way, because there is no room for deviation from what a handful of hacks who've taken over the agenda and defined the core ideological beliefs, which just so happen to serve the special interests that finance the party trough. As long as they keep kicking those who won't drink the Kool-Aid out of the tent, however, the party's chances of taking back the White House only grow slimmer.
Too much of what the Republican Party is selling remains deeply out of step with the American people, who are far more inclusive, compassionate and progressive than the GOP base can even begin to tolerate. So long as you are having to put your party big shots on Sunday talk shows to explain what your vice presidential candidate really meant when he talked about “legitimate rape” as a “method of conception,” himself trying to explain his close relationship with another Republican who had been trying to articulate some dark-age notion that the female body can innately resist pregnancy when sex is forced upon it, you're going to have a hard time building a majority.
When the denial of climate change is a litmus test in your primaries, years of escalating extreme weather capped by a mutant-thunderstorm nor'easter just before the election, will cause even the people who didn't pay attention in science class to start seriously questioning your ability to lead a nation. When you make the fiscal cliff the centerpiece of your scare campaign and then start yelling like Chicken Little that the sky is falling when mandatory across-the-board cuts begin to approach the bloated pork-factory that is the Pentagon, even voters who slept through their freshman econ class are going to have a hard time taking you seriously, especially when your own budget plan proposes raising the debt every year you'd be in office for two entire terms. Ditto when you try and tell women to forget about their uterus and focus on the economy (right after opposing the Fair Pay Act no less); try to tell same-sex couples they're not part of the whole equal rights thing, or suggest that hardworking immigrants self-deport.
You can be a Republican and a conservative and think that it's good business to reduce our dependency on foreign oil by increasing the efficiency in the way we use energy, not just doing away with every environmental precaution in terms of finding more. You can be a Republican and a conservative and be concerned not only about saddling your grandkids with the cost of current budget deficits, but the much-larger and more perilous future financial costs of ignoring climate change. You just can't be those things and survive a modern Republican presidential primary intact to run a general election.
Commonsense Republicans need to take their party back. There were quality potential candidates among their ranks at the start of this cycle – guys like Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty and Bobby Jindal – but they never stood a chance. So when the crazy-talk crowd like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich couldn't close the deal, once again they went with the plastic, empty-suit establishment candidate just like they did in 1996, 2000 and 2008 – the one who would say whatever they wanted, but without enough conviction to send sane voters running and screaming. Those sane voters just didn't vote for them, and stealing an election seems like a once in a half century thing that can't be relied on as a consistent method of winning the White House, no matter how hard one tries to suppress the vote of their opponents while calling it fighting fraud.
Some Republicans are getting the message, and I hope they'll have the stones to cast out the crazies next time around. The Democrats faced a similar struggle when they came to a fork in the road with the racist forces within their southern ranks, but proved that saying goodbye to a faction that threatened not only the unity of their party, but its viability, was not a choice, but a necessity, were they to survive. If Republicans don't learn that same lesson soon, they may find themselves gone the way of the very party they supplanted: the Whigs – tossed into the dustbin of history by a refusal to accept the reality that the results keep attempting to orient them to.
If the 2016 field features candidates like Chris Christie, Jon Huntsman, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder or former Kansas Governor Bill Graves, it will bode well for the party's chances. But if it's the predictable lot like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan and Rand Paul, they can count on another drubbing by the time November rolls around. The number of American voters receptive to that message is clearly under 50 percent and shrinking each cycle. The GOP needs to adapt or get out of the way for the next team. I sincerely hope they choose the former, while getting back to the sort of principles that were their strong suit with regular Americans.