GOP must end politics of division


Political observers couldn't help but note recent comments from former Speaker of the House and idea machine Newt Gingrich in The New Yorker magazine.

The man who oversaw the biggest sea change in political history -- the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 -- had some pretty harsh words for our president and his mastermind.

Newt charged President Bush with presiding over a Republican Party "in collapse" and said that Karl Rove is "manically dumb" for focusing campaign strategies on only the conservative base.

Ouch.

Our current leadership came to power in the closest election in U.S. history. Something more than 500 votes in Florida settled the election after the courts had their say. I believed in 2000 that the U.S. Supreme Court acted appropriately, and I believe that today.

What I can't get my arms around is how this administration and its political brain trust have held onto their power.

Essentially, Bush-Rove proved that they can win elections by carving out slim majorities of people who don't like the opponent more than they don't like Bush. Clearly, their ultimate strategy was to identify and turn out a vote that was more "anti-them" than "anti-us." Hardly a formula for effective post-election governance.

In his observations, Newt actually repeated what he's been saying for three years or more. Throughout late 2003 and all of 2004, Newt cautioned the Bush team against building an entire re-election around attacking John Kerry personally. He urged them to force a genuine choice over values and policies.

The former speaker also pointed out that a governing national party cannot write off entire regions. I would suggest they are arrogantly writing off entire demographics.

I would think the GOP would want to be a natural majority. Not an anti-majority.

It's time my party's leadership considers why 50 percent or more of black Americans support Republican ideas like parental choice in education, are pro-life, pro-marriage, support faith-based organizations getting a piece of the government social services pie, are pro-homeownership and pro-business ownership, yet only 8 to 10 percent of this demographic votes Republican.

If my party could attract even 20 percent of the black vote rather than the 8 to 10 percent we do today, the Democrats would never win another national election.

Republicans will never become the natural majority until we build trust and better outreach with those non-traditional constituencies.

The sad truth is, the Republican establishment thinks it's enough that more than 150 years ago, their party was established from the anti-slavery movement.

Imagine today's Republican establishment in control 150 years ago. When slaves had asked how to get to the land of milk and honey, the GOP establishment would have said, "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps." Those fighting for opportunity then -- and today -- had no boots or straps on which to pull.

The truth is, entire demographic groups in our great country have been written off by my party because GOP consultants believe they can win without them. Our party finds itself in this dilemma because we have, for a political generation or more, not been serious about growing a natural majority.

Most political consultants on the Republican side don't know the first thing about outreach. They don't know how to grow their base. They know safe. They know how to appeal to political conservatives. The political pros just don't know how to deal with people who don't eat the same food or worship the same way they do. They don't know how to reach people who don't watch the same TV shows as they do.

As much as I love my friends in the Republican Party, and I love seeing them at county and state conventions as I travel the country, I see the same people every time. Republicans won't grow if their candidates and campaigns are talking only to people who go to GOP conventions. This is like the pastor preaching only to the choir.

As I watch the 2008 campaigns unfold, I see candidates controlled by their consultants, not by their convictions.

There is not a candidate in the field who has not invoked the name of Ronald Reagan and who doesn't claim the Reagan mantle. But if you're old enough to remember our great late president, and if you read his diaries today, you'll see a significant difference. Reagan controlled his consultants. His consultants didn't control him.

If Republicans are ever to become the natural majority, Republican candidates -- especially presidential candidates -- must be able to connect with people who don't look like their consultants.

J.C. Watts is chairman of J.C. Watts Companies, a business consulting group. He is former chairman of the Republican Conference of the U.S. House, where he served as an Oklahoma representative from 1995 to 2002. He writes twice monthly for the Review-Journal. His e-mail address is JCWatts01@jcwatts.com.

 

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