Sure, Republicans have had a hard couple of elections. But you’ll excuse me for suggesting that reports of our death have been more than a little exaggerated.
In fact, the electorate shifted only about 4 points from Republicans to Democrats since 2004. That year, George W. Bush took 48 percent of the vote against Barack Obama’s approximately 52 percent in this election. Now, don’t get me wrong, that 4-point shift produced the best vote tally for a national Democrat since Lyndon B. Johnson.
But the admittedly major defeat for the home team that resulted from a mere 4-point shift need not send Republicans to the locker room just yet. The fact is that despite dire predictions to the contrary, turnout in 2008 was about the same as it was in 2004. The real problem was that Republican turn-out pitched down while Democrat turnout surged.
We can get those votes back and then some. But we have both strategic and tactical improvements to make.
Return to timeless Republican principles. And include a positive, optimistic message that envisions a new, stronger, more prosperous American future. Ronald Reagan spoke to our deepest longing as a people. He gave a voice to principles that are true for all people in all times. Retool our message, but base it on those proven conservative principles for which our party has always stood: Our freedom is from God, not government. Our prosperity comes from a free people in a free market, not overtaxing, free-spending bureaucrats. We celebrate and protect life, born and unborn. And our best hope for a brighter future is in the empowerment of individuals and families, not in the constraints imposed by a bloated bureaucracy.
Organize in every state. Our successes are mostly centered in Appalachia, the South and the Great Plains. We’ve been nearly completely shut out in New England, and we’re only slightly better off in the mid-Atlantic. Things don’t look any better in the Rust Belt or the West Coast either. Democrats have done a great job of outworking us in these areas. We need a new approach that assures Republicans play in every state; take nothing for granted. We may not win everywhere we play, but we certainly won’t win if we don’t play everywhere we can.
Appeal to the forgotten middle class. Obama beat us in the cities, suburbs and exurbs. We beat him in the rural areas. Our message of economic growth, lower taxes, more accountability in education, personal responsibility and fiscal restraint will appeal, but we have to refine it and do a lot better job of getting it out.
Build a broader coalition. Obama’s coalition consisted of a broad cross-section of Americans. Young voters went for Obama 68 percent to 30 percent. He beat us among Hispanics by a 2-1 ratio. He won the votes of Asians, women, African-Americans and seniors. This doesn’t have to be the case. We have the message, but we have to improve our credibility with these voters.
Stop the blame game. We have to stop trying to lay blame for our losses. It’s embarrassing to see what unnamed McCain aides are saying about Sarah Palin. Worse, it’s not fair, relevant or productive. Instead, we have to recognize we have all contributed to the problem and it will take us all — working together — to repair it.
Use new communication tools. Not only was our message stale, the means by which we’ve conveyed our message has been lackluster — at best. Television advertising is great, but it’s not enough in this new age of Facebook, YouTube, bloggers and Twitter. In addition to updating our message, we have to update the means by which we communicate it.
The Republican Party needs an overhaul not just an adjustment if we’re to create a new Republican majority. Once again, we need to speak directly to the hopes, concerns and aspirations of Americans. So let’s stop telling Americans what we’re against and instead articulate a compelling vision of what we’re for, how we’ll lead and where we want to go.
And we need to do it in a far more powerful, relevant and credible way. The result of this election gives us the chance to take a step back, reassess, re-engineer and figure out how to do that. And that’s good news.
Michael Steele served as lieutenant governor of Maryland from 2003 to 2007 and is currently a candidate for chairman of the Republican National Committee.