It is no secret that in Maine, and many places across the country, the GOP lost big in the 2012 elections. Already, the much vaunted and ever-present “circular firing squad” is taking aim within the party. But while there is certainly a reason to ask some honest questions about the direction of the party and our electoral strategies on both a macro and micro scale, it is important not to lose sight that the purpose of these questions should be to learn and adapt, not assign blame.
Like the saying goes: “Success has many parents, but failure is an orphan.” Should people wish to play the blame game, there is always plenty to go around, but it seldom accomplishes much. We had countless good candidates across the country, and what happened is not a reflection on them.
But I do not believe all, or indeed most, of the Republican Party’s future is doom and gloom. On the contrary, I believe this can serve as an opportunity to make some significant and lasting changes.
First, I want to dispel any doubt in the core tenets of conservative philosophy. The problem is not the issues, it’s the way they are sometimes presented. It is ironic that the idea of real conservatism — the right of the individual — serves to provide consistent fodder for the perceived divisions that exist in any organization.
Second, we must accept that, thus far, our efforts to court various demographics have failed. We will never “out Democrat the Democrats,” nor should we try. Rather, the GOP must stress its heritage of not only the party of personal liberty but also of personal responsibility. When grappling with the question of how to appeal to demographics that seem to have voted overwhelmingly Democratic in last week’s election, the argument must be framed in a way that highlights these broad distinctions, while still providing a compelling argument to vote Republican.
Too frequently elections come down to a contest of facts against personalities, and the analysis seems to be that if you don’t have the facts, you can still win on personality. We can no longer afford to let the other party have a monopoly on personality and trust that the facts alone will sway an electorate. To be blunt, the box that something comes in does count: A paper bag that contains a bar of gold won’t get the same attention as bright wrapping paper and glitter wrapped around a lump of coal.
Third, and most importantly, we as Republicans must get serious with ourselves. Much has been made of the divisions within our own party, and the public feuding and attacks launched by some have been reckless, to say the least.
In my background as a senior officer on a ship, I recognize that there are times when you must question the orders being given by those above you, but during a battle or emergency it is not the time to do it. In such times, everyone must pull in the same direction, and to fail to do so betrays that one is more concerned with scoring political points than actually accomplishing real victories that will benefit all of America.
Being a “conservative” and being a “Republican” is not necessarily the same thing, but the two are linked. Therefore, those who identify with one or the other — or both — must recognize that what unites us as a party, indeed what unites us all as Americans regardless of political ideology, is far more complicated than a checklist of issues, which only serves to further divide an already fractured American people. The Republican Party will win, and win big, when we start talking big.
No one has to compromise values and principles. Rather, we will achieve success because we will no longer be putting values and principles into a niche, while attempting to win an election based on pettiness, smallness and political smoke and mirrors. Once more I will reiterate: The GOP will never “out Democrat the Democrats.”
This year was not the end of the Republican Party any more than 2004 was the end of the Democrat Party. Too many political prognosticators are already chirping that this election means the end of the traditional American way and the erosion of all that we hold dear.
To that, I can only paraphrase John Paul Jones, the father of the United States Navy:
“We have not yet begun to fight.”
Patrick Calder, of Portland, is a former candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a former chairman of the Portland Republican City Committee.