Among the signees are former Bush administration officials, Jon Huntsman, Meg Whitman, former Justice Department officials, and David Stockman — President Reagan’s first budget director. Before we celebrate what might appear to be the first real shift in Republican ideology, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of signers are retired or no longer hold public office. So what does this move actually mean for the future of the GOP?
An optimistic take would suggest Republicans have finally recognized the quicksand beneath their "opposition to marriage equality" platform. This could theoretically be the first signal flare of a battle for the party’s future, distancing the majority from outdated conservative values and dwindling Christian votes. A more cynical take would note that because almost all the signers are out of office, they have no political capital to lose by challenging Boehner and the Republican leadership. This shows a void of courage within the actual party, and the stated position of support from these outsiders runs along the vague lines of: "same-sex marriages still uphold family values by allowing children to grow up in a two-person home."
This is a sidestep around the central fight of gays and lesbians who seek equal standing in our society, by framing it around a familiar home structure and parenting roles. At best, this is a tepid maneuver which dips a toe in both ponds, hoping not to rock the boat too severely. They might very well garner some lost support from their own camp, including the often shunned Log Cabin Republicans — but they are unlikely to change the dynamic of the party significantly.
Many voters long to see a meaningful turnaround develop in the party’s ideology, based on actual ethics and pragmatism. But the Republicans learned all the wrong lessons from their Tea Party experiment. Doubling down on the traditional conservative voter base only resulted in unruly insubordination. Their attempt to mimic Obama's successful social media campaign resulted in the Facebook equivalent of a drunken old uncle crashing the dinner party and refusing to leave. The only thing the GOP family seems to uniformly still agree on is an extreme pro-business stance — but that’s not enough of an identity to reign in libertarians, social conservatives, tea partiers and neocons.
The Republicans may have even more painful birth pangs ahead of them on the road to reinvention. Despite their staunch unity in obstructionism and supposed dominance of Congress, more visible cracks in their power are emerging. The GOP lost the sum of House popular votes by 1.4 million, and yet maintained control of the house by 33 seats. Whether you blame gerrymandering or incumbencys, Republicans are clearly relying on tactics, financing, and political maneuvering to hold onto power - they certainly can't muster the actual voting numbers.
A few party members can see the era of Cheney and Rove is fast approaching its finale, and are desperately looking for ways to connect with the masses again. But until they risk open defiance against the old guard and their financiers, they stand little chance of reclaiming the spotlight in a meaningful way.
Meanwhile, the ongoing displays of hypocrisy and stubbornness by the GOP continue to alienate more voters. In the current sequester debate, Republicans were offered 80% of their demands — and still refused to make a deal. Their claims of having the "people's" interests at heart are fast becoming untenable in light of their unflinching loyaty to corporate sponsors. The only thing stopping them from being dragged out of office is the Democratic Party's infuriating habit of constantly shifting to the right in negotitations.
It's not enough to recognize a need for ideological changes, and casually suggest them from the sidelines. Real leaders need to take over the playing field, or face another embarassing defeat to their blue-jerseyed opposition.