The headlines look good for Republicans. Political prognosticator Nate Silver has recently predicted that Republicans have a 60 percent chance of taking back the Senate this November. Election guru and CQ Roll Call columnist Stuart Rothenberg has projected gains of four to eight seats.
As a young Republican woman, I should feel confident about the future of the party, but I don’t. I am worried that a victory this November will mask deeper problems in the party.
The 2012 election results highlighted the need for change. President Barack Obama won soundly with women, young voters and minorities, signaling a deep disconnect between these key demographics and Republicans. It was also a year where comments like Todd Aikin’s “legitimate rape” painted the party as extreme and out of touch.
For evidence, look no further than the Republican National Committee’s autopsy of the party’s 2012 failings. The detailed report conceded that many voters believe Republicans are “scary,” “narrow minded,” and “out of touch.” The party of “stuffy old men.” This perception hasn’t changed and we continue to lose ground with growing demographics of voters in this country.
If we don’t change that perception now, we will be relegated to a party that can only win midterm elections. We may win this November with the support of seniors and by opposing Obamacare, but that is not a long-term solution to address the disconnect we have with growing demographics. Even if we do win this November, that new majority will be put at risk in 2016. Not only will we have a tough presidential election but Republicans will be defending 23 Senate seats, including races in New Hampshire, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois and Pennsylvania — states that Obama won in 2008 and in 2012.
In order to stay viable as a party in difficult to win states, we need to embrace a more inclusive approach. We have to be a party that is focused on creating opportunities for every American, regardless of sex, race or sexual orientation. As a pro-life Republican, I am not advocating we abandon our principles, but we do need to demonstrate that the party is bigger than the sensationalists whose comments dominate the headlines.
A recent article by Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, in The National Interest makes an interesting point about the upcoming 2016 presidential nomination contest. In his analysis, he breaks down the Republican Party into four camps: “moderate or liberal voters; somewhat conservative voters; very conservative, evangelical voters; and very conservative, secular voters.” He argues that the largest group of Republican voters, and the ones who will count the most in the nomination process, are the individuals who identify themselves as somewhat conservative.
According to Olsen, “They are not very vocal but they form the bedrock base of the Republican Party.” Additionally, “They also have a significant distinction: they always back the winner.” He identifies former and current Governors Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Rep. Paul D. Ryan as the candidates these voters would support.
This analysis highlights something very important about the Republican Party: The majority of us aren’t sensationalists. It also emphasizes the need for more centrist Republicans to step up to the plate and help reshape the Republican brand. Whether it is House Speaker John A. Boehner bucking conservative organizations that are overreaching or the campaign committees who cut ties with consultants who are instigating primaries, it needs to keep happening.
At our core, Republican beliefs should appeal to a broader audience. Our message is one of opportunity, freedom and American exceptionalism. We believe that it is individuals who hold the keys to the American Dream, not the federal government. However, voters won’t hear that message if we don’t change their perception of the party.
Lisa Boothe is a Senior Director at the Black Rock Group. She has worked as a Communications Director for Members of Congress and candidates.