Free the GOP by Christine Todd Whitman and Robert M. Bostock of The Washington Post

November 17, 2008 at 4:15 am Leave a comment

mccain-palin-sign-7.jpgFour years ago, in the week after the 2004 presidential election, we were working furiously to put the finishing touches on the book we co-authored, “It’s My Party Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America.”

Our central thesis was simple: The Republican Party had been taken
hostage by “social fundamentalists,” the people who base their votes on
such social issues as abortion, gay rights and stem cell research.
Unless the GOP freed itself from their grip, we argued, it would so
alienate itself from the broad center of the American electorate that
it would become increasingly marginalized and find itself out of power.

At the time, this idea was roundly attacked by many who were
convinced that holding on to the “base” at all costs was the way to go.
A former speechwriter for President Bush, Matthew Scully,
who went on to work for the McCain campaign this year, called the book
“airy blather” and said its argument fell somewhere between
“insufferable snobbery” and “complete cluelessness.” Gary Bauer suggested that the book sounded as if it came from a “Michael Moore radical.” National Review said its warnings were, “at best, counterintuitive,” and Ann Coulter said the book was “based on conventional wisdom that is now known to be false.”

What a difference four years makes — and the data show it.

While a host of issues were at play in this election, the primary reason John McCain
lost was the substantial erosion of support from self-identified
moderates compared with four years ago. In 2004, Democratic nominee John Kerry held just a nine-percentage-point margin among moderate voters over President Bush. This year, the spread between Barack Obama
and McCain was 21 points among this group. The net difference between
the two elections is a deficit of nearly 6.4 million moderate votes for
the Republicans in 2008.

In seven of the nine states that switched this year from Republican to
Democratic, Obama’s vote total exceeded the total won by President Bush
four years ago. So even if McCain had equaled the president’s numbers
from 2004 (and he did not), he still would have lost in Colorado,
Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia (81
total electoral votes) — and lost the election. McCain didn’t lose
those states because he failed to hold the base. He lost them because
Obama broadened his base.

Nor did the Republican ticket lose because “values voters” stayed
home. On the contrary, according to exit polls, such voters made up a
larger proportion of the electorate this year than in 2004 — 26
percent, up from 23 percent. Extrapolating from those data, McCain
actually won more votes from self-identified white
evangelical/born-again voters than Bush did four years ago — 1.8
million more. But that was not enough to offset the loss of so many
moderates.

Following the conventional wisdom of the past two presidential
elections, McCain tried mightily to assuage the Republican Party’s
social-fundamentalist wing. His selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin,
whose social views are entirely aligned with that wing, as his running
mate was clearly meant to demonstrate his commitment to that bloc. Yet
while his choice did comfort those voters, it made many others
uncomfortable.

Palin has many attractive qualities as a candidate. Being prepared
to become president at a moment’s notice was not obviously among them
this year. Her selection cost the ticket support among those moderate
voters who saw it as a cynical sop to social fundamentalists,
reinforcing the impression that they control the party, with the
party’s consent.

In the wake of the Democrats’ landslide victory, and despite all
evidence to the contrary, many in the GOP are arguing that John McCain
was defeated because the social fundamentalists wouldn’t support him.
They seem to be suffering from a political strain of Stockholm
syndrome. They are identifying with the interests of their political
captors and ignoring the views of the larger electorate. This has cost
the Republican Party the votes of millions of people who don’t find a
willingness to acquiesce to hostage-takers a positive trait in
potential leaders.

Unless the Republican Party ends its self-imposed captivity to
social fundamentalists, it will spend a long time in the political
wilderness. On Nov. 4, the American people very clearly rejected the
politics of demonization and division. It’s long past time for the GOP
to do the same.

Christine Todd Whitman, who served as administrator of the
Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003, is co-chair of the
Republican Leadership Council. Robert M. Bostock, a freelance
speechwriter, was her co-author for the book “It’s My Party Too.”

Source: Washington Post

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