Mitt Romney’s loss to President Barack Obama came as a shock to many prominent conservative politicos. As unfortunate as the defeat was, especially for those who had an emotional investment in a Romney win, it did provoke a long overdue line of conversation within the Republican Party – one geared toward party evolution and reform.
The Republicans, scrambling to explain their loss to President Obama, have looked inward to solve this problem. Their conclusion: they must adapt to the shifting political climate, or die.
Conservative pundits have almost universally acknowledged this fact, but disagree as to what sort of changes are needed.
Some think the party should revise its position on taxing wealthy Americans so as to avoid appearing out of touch. Others believe that victory will be found in capturing the Hispanic vote, which could theoretically be accomplished by softening the GOP’s position on immigration reform.
This current approach by the conservative punditry – one that perhaps has too external of a focus – is missing a key ingredient. Yes, the GOP must bring in new blood in order to win and yes, it must pay particular attention to the shifting demographics of the electorate. But there are dangers inherit in making this the sole and relentless focus of the party for the next four years.
First, the party must to care to avoid simply repackaging Democratic ideas in a neutered, insincere form. Second, and more importantly, the party must also avoid disenfranchising its libertarian coalition again.
I doubt that the GOP will repeat their mistake of obstructing libertarian participation in their party, especially as there is evidence to suggest that these tactics may have cost Mitt Romney the election.
The Old Guard is starting to realize that the youthful, Ron Paul supporting libertarian Republicans are now a necessity, and that they deserve to be acknowledged as a political force in their own right.
In fact, it is arguable that the GOP ought to prioritize welcoming receptive libertarians into the fold over other factions. The reason? A party cannot successfully reach out to alien coalitions if it is already a fractured party. It is vital for the Republican leadership to realize that they must first accommodate those who are already receptive to its message, and who are keen to join it as active members.
Even Bill Kristol, a neoconservative Fox News personality, realized this truth as he was mulling over the next move for Republicans. Kristol cited the strong youth support for presidential candidate Ron Paul as an indicator that the party cannot ignore or disenfranchise libertarians any longer.
He even acknowledged that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose message is characterized by Tea Party populism, sharp attacks on government, and a lesser emphasis on social issues could prove to be a strong contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Those who are sincerely vested in healing the Republican Party would do well to heed Kristol’s advice. Welcoming libertarians into the party is the necessary first step. It is also the easiest as many have already worked their way into its lower echelons.
After that assimilation, the final step is natural – the party will inevitably shift to reflect its new libertarian membership, thus resulting in a more palatable, tolerant, and electable political organization.