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Q&A with Bill Rosenberg: The GOP Seeks a New Way Forward

March 25, 2013


After a difficult election season that ended with Mitt Romney's loss to President Barack Obama, the Republican National Committee’s Growth and Opportunity Project released a report last week calling on the party to make sweeping changes in order to court younger voters. DrexelNow spoke with professor Bill Rosenberg about the party’s efforts to reconnect with the public, and what it might mean for the future of conservative politics.

Can you give us some background information on the Republican National Committee’s plans to re-evaluate their message?

The Republican Party is in a conundrum. The pro-business, small government variety—mostly made up of Karl Rove and his crew—has a different agenda than the Tea Party people like Rand Paul and Sarah Palin. The Republican Party at the national level is now trying to decide what they’re going to do. Their message does not seem to be connecting to many anymore because it does not seem responsive to the needs of minorities and people who favor marriage equality. The demographics in the U.S. are working against the Republicans; more and more people are accepting of marriage equality, accepting of immigrants on the path to citizenship, and Republicans seem to lack a vibrant connection with African-American voters. It’s becoming harder for Republicans to win the White House, so they realize they need to rethink their messaging. They can’t afford to have people in their camp who are unsupportive of immigration, marriage equality and minority voters.

The Republican Party has invested time, money and energy into figuring out what they should be doing, and listening to the public is their first step. They need to find out how they can better communicate with these groups. Unfortunately, it becomes a question of whether the party is actually going to form different policies or if they’re just going to package their current policies so they sound better.

Politically, does it help or hurt a party to admit a disconnect with voters and make changes to their message?

Recognizing that their current platform might be out of sync with what voters want is important. It’s important for people who may vote Republican to see that the party cares about what they want. However, those who believe in the party’s platform and think that changing it is the wrong thing to do will not embrace these changes at all. It really depends upon the voter; if they think the party is upholding principles that shouldn’t be changed, they’ll want to double down and convince people their beliefs are right.

But, becoming aware of a disconnect—and adapting—may help with independent voters who might have some agreement with the Republican Party, but can’t pull the lever when the time comes to vote. However, these same people might consider voting for a Republican if changes were made on a few select policies.

As young people age into the electorate, they’re going to continue to bring their politics with them. Right now, they’re more oriented toward Democratic principles because of the issues that concern them. That won’t bode well for Republicans, so they have to figure out how to change that trend.

The recommendations must be approved by a number of people before being enacted. What are the chances the RNC will accept the recommendations?

Ultimately, they will probably accept some of the recommendations—particularly the part about listening to voters. The question is whether or not they’d make policy position changes in areas where there is major disagreement. They obviously want to attract more voters but they may not want to do that at the cost of their core principles. They ultimately need to determine what those core principles are. Many will argue that you can perhaps compromise on policy, but not on principle. If there’s a true core principle involved, some may be unwilling to change—a problem that happens just as frequently with Democrats as it does with Republicans.