There seems to be a common misconception in America’s political discourse that party politics are a zero-sum game. Pundits and party members tend to preach that aligning yourself with one political party means you must oppose the other, at all times, at any cost. Fundraising e-mails and negative campaign ads convince us that Our Party’s success is measured by Their Party’s defeat. In Virginia, the land of off-year elections and the never-ending campaign cycle, these tactics are virtually inescapable. Following that logic, the Growth & Opportunity Project report published by Reince Priebus’ task force today—which identifies seven areas in which the GOP can make changes to “grow the Party and improve Republican campaigns” (GOP Report p. 1)—represents a huge threat to the Democratic Party. This logic is troubling, given that the GOP report recommends reasonable, mainstream policy positions largely in line with established Democratic policy positions.
The authors, a forward-looking group of five party operatives, make some surprisingly subversive recommendations, including “comprehensive immigration reform” (p. 76) and changes to the current campaign finance model—”an illogical system where candidates and their parties no longer have the loudest voices in campaigns or even the ability to determine the issues debated” (p. 64). If the GOP were to actually implement these recommendations, Democrats would very likely lose what has so far been an unqualified stranglehold on some key constituencies—for example, Hispanics, African-Americans, and women.
As far as I can tell, the immediate response among Democrats was to dismiss the 100-page report (on Twitter, the #GOPAutopsy) as a codification of party shortcomings. This rhetoric reduces the report to another throw-away piece of extremist, partisan ideology. Democrats who subscribe to these ideas will pick through it for examples of Republican failures, ignoring the suggestions it makes for improvements and advancement. Once this narrative gets going, what choice will Republicans have? They will be under attack, and they must go on defense, doubling down on the very policies that their colleagues have said are most harmful to the party.
This knee-jerk reaction is ill-suited to achieving actual improvements for which both parties should be fighting. For example, the report suggests that the GOP should make an effort to “include female voters and promote women to leadership ranks within the committee” (p. 19). Is the Democratic base really so fragile, their voters so disloyal, that party leaders feel a need to fight back against suggestions such as this? I hope not. Instead of using the report as evidence of a problem, let us recognize it for what it is: part of a solution. Women taking on leadership positions within the Republican Party is not a threat to Democrats. It is an overdue advancement for women that will make the United States a better place to live and work. It is also, incidentally, a plank in the Democratic National Platform: “We are committed to ensuring full equality for women.”
The GOP report’s greatest gift to Democrats is that it gives them an opportunity to stop competing over the questions that have easy answers. If we can all agree that “Programs … to recruit minority candidates … should be encouraged” (p. 33), then we can compete instead over answers to actual policy problems. And, after all, the Republicans point out that “competition can inspire innovation and development of the best ideas” (p. 31).
Is the report perfect? Of course not. But before we point out where it went wrong, let’s take a moment to applaud authors Henry Barbour, Sally Bradshaw, Art Fleischer, Zori Fonalledas, and Glenn McCall for what they did right.
-Post by Doc McConnell, MPP ’13