There are several competing schools of thought as to how the Republican Party can achieve wide success in a country growing evermore racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse.
One school says that the GOP must moderate, or even abandon, its social conservative themes. The converse school says that the GOP must redouble its emphasis on social conservative themes, playing up that “old time religion.”
Another school — similar but distinct from the first — says that the GOP must look beyond its base, patronizing non-whites, non-Christians, and non-natives, as well as younger and urban voters. The converse school says that the GOP must shore up its base, pandering vigorously to whites, Christians, and natives, as well as older and suburban-rural voters.
Each of these paths offers potential benefits and potential drawbacks. Yet not one is truly feasible. Is there a way to maintain and expand the fabled “big tent” without dismissing a whole wing of the party? Is there a means of bypassing the liberalization dilemma entirely?
Adopting an agenda of reform and modernization might be the solution. This move would allow the party to transcend divisive identity issues while presenting itself as smart, innovative, and inclusive.
What might a reform agenda entail? The possibilities are numerous. They include: setting congressional term limits, restructuring the electoral college, experimenting with Internet voting, retooling the primary process, expanding broadband and wireless access, introducing ballot-based referendums, combating cronyism and undue lobbyist influence through sunlight regulations, tackling the obesity epidemic, promoting energy conservation and independence, simplifying the tax code, ending prohibition of medical marijuana, creating a national community service program, and means-testing entitlements.
These ideas are neither novel nor thrilling. Some directly challenge the interests of party bosses and sitting legislators and major campaign contributors, which is problematic. Yet they could prove worthwhile steps toward making the Republican Party a “one nation” organization with mass appeal. GOPers marooned in blue states have historically depended upon such good government proposals to overcome entrenched liberal opponents.
Technocratic pragmatism will never compose the heart of Republican politics. Nor should it. The country profits from an overtly conservative party. Still, the GOP should consider a reform agenda if tea party radicalism and right-wing populism fail to produce victory in 2012.