Watching Fox News on the day after the election, you saw a fascinating dynamic at play. A number of pundits spoke sympathetically of amnesty and openly criticized Arizona SB 1070 amid discussion of how to appeal to the growing Hispanic population. “The O’Reilly Factor” featured the unflinching admonition “to stop this Bible-based bashing of gay people,” while other segments noted the unprecedented four for four sweep gay marriage advocates won at the ballot box. The telling sentiment of the day, however, was that conservatives cannot and will not compromise on principles. So where do we go from here?
For starters, we must recognize the historic nature of this election. Barack Obama won re-election despite disastrous unemployment and a dubious economic outlook. (We’ll set aside the matter of the murdered U.S. ambassador.) Decisive electoral failure under such extraordinary circumstances, even as the country overall shifted right, certainly merits some existential panic, despite modest gubernatorial gains and a re-elected House majority. But whether you think the president won without a mandate by small and divisive tactics or prevailed largely on the rote inertia of incumbency, he undeniably did so while playing heavily to the demographic strengths of the Democratic coalition — women, Latinos, blacks, millennials, gays — and everybody knows that everybody knows this.
Somewhere along the way, the Party of Lincoln became, in the eyes of an ever-growing segment of America, the Party of Aging, White (Straight), Embittered Men given to fits of delusion. There are many ways, reasons, and heated denials about how this happened, but in the end, Mitt Romney lost, and Barack Obama will have his second term, and the Democratic majority in the Senate will grow, as will the Democratic Party’s presence in the House. But for all the kindled talk of the perpetual dominance of the jackass, even the largest political majorities are, in the grander scheme, fleeting. Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arkansas were solidly blue in the 1990s. Now they are deep red. Maine voted down gay marriage in 2009 and voted it up in 2012.
Assuming you noticed the tagline on my blog or on Twitter, you may have wondered how I could feel comfortable being Republican. After all, only 6% of blacks voted for Romney, and the GOP is understandably anathema to many gay Americans and their disproportionately young and professional allies. But I’ll let you in on a secret: I don’t expect the party to look as it does now in 10 years, or even by 2016. For one, there are many tough but necessary choices ahead that will strain the special-interest-driven coalition of the left, whatever happens with white voters, and anything is possible over the next two to four years.
The conservative movement and its values of liberty, discipline, personal responsibility, virtue, family, community, duty, and free enterprise are objectively superior to the creeping statism and obdurate collectivism of the left. The setback of this election notwithstanding, conservatism is far from dead or even moribund. It is merely in the process of doing what all successful life does — namely, to quote the president, evolving. The matter of adjusting tone and approach to such hot-button issues as immigration, abortion, and gay equality is not one of abandoning core principles. Rather, the project before the Party of Ronald Reagan and Condoleezza Rice is to apply those values to new circumstances and new audiences.
To this end, Republican willingness to engage on comprehensive immigration reform is a great start. While Marco Rubio may or may not appeal to Hispanics outside Florida, prominent Southwestern Republicans — e.g., Sandoval, Martinez, and Cruz — are well positioned to bring diversity into the conservative electorate. I doubt embracing open borders would win the Latino vote for the GOP. However, many conservatively inclined Latino voters may be more receptive when not worrying, fairly or not, that “driving while brown” will warrant harassment under Republican governance.
The question of gays is about much more than 5% of the electorate. Young Americans, including many young Republicans, overwhelmingly understand that gay families are valid American families of people who just want to live their lives and participate in their communities like anyone else. We live in a world where voters in West Virginia, Ohio, Arizona, and both Dakotas elected gay legislators at various levels of government and where Wisconsin sent the first openly gay U.S. senator to Washington. (Did I mention that voters just approved gay marriage in three states and defeated a constitutional ban in another?)
Put bluntly, a movement identified with and defined by opposition to anti-bullying measures, anti-discrimination laws, gay couples adopting, and, yes, same-sex marriage, will bear witness to the leftward drift of millennials toward the political event horizon of liberalism — and the world will suffer accordingly. Fortunately, once these things are accomplished, they will cease to be issues, and gay families and the people who love them can focus on other things. In the meantime, for the good of the country and everybody who loves her, it’s time for opponents of gay rights to move on.
And so we come to abortion. Many millions of Americans, particularly among Republicans, identify as pro-life. There is nothing wrong with this. Indeed, I suspect we’re moving toward a national consensus on reasonable limits to abortion that vary somewhat by state. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock did not lose once-safe GOP Senate seats because they were pro-life. They lost because they were inanely self-indulgent purists who found a mawkish virtue in needlessly alienating most of the electorate. In so doing, they have achieved nothing beyond setting back the causes of restricting abortion and promoting conservative government by feeding into a tendentious narrative of a conservative “war on women.”
You should not interpret any of this as a move to eject anyone from the coalition or spark a Republican civil war. The voices and contributions of social conservatives will remain prominent and valuable. The focus on family values translates into policies that aim to benefit communities, such as school choice and more local control of education. Upon the rock of piety conservatives build institutions that provide education and social services to millions. For the sake of stewardship, Republicans of all stripes devote their resources to sound fiscal policy and good governance. Concern for life promotes charity and community service that change lives around the world.
The Republican Party, like America, is designed for the inclusion of the big tent. Our core principles are not tied to race, creed, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, or national origin. They are divined from the foundation of a diverse republic whose self-understanding is rendered, “Out of Many, One.” As I’ve noted before, the Party of Frederick Douglass, Calvin Coolidge, Oscar de Priest, and Barry Goldwater will continue to produce and hone partisans of free enterprise and limited government for as long as the American people seek prosperity. And we will welcome all comers.
As a certain young Republican congressman and vice-presidential hopeful once said:
“If you believe in freedom, liberty, self-determination, free enterprise, I don’t care if you’re a Muslim, Jewish, Agnostic, Christian, gay, straight, Latino, black, white, Irish, whatever. Join us.”
This essay originally appeared at Token Dissonance.
Anthony Rek LeCounte is a Yale-educated conservative. He blogs at Token Dissonance.