Bobby Jindal laid it on the line last week. In the keynote address at the winter meeting of the National Republican Committee, the Louisiana governor told the gathered cognoscenti that the GOP had to “stop being the stupid party.” Three cheers for Jindal. He needs to make sure his peers in Virginia and other states get the message.
A functioning democracy needs viable political parties to keep each other in check and offer alternative visions for the country. The vision offered by the Republican Party in recent years is that immigrants are bad, raising taxes is treasonous, climate change is a fantasy and women don’t get pregnant when they are raped legitimately. It’s the talk of a fringe party, not one that wants to represent a country as large and diverse as this one is.
The Republican Party is hardly a fringe organization, but it has given itself over to a faction whose main purpose seems to be who can out-conservative the other. For example, in 2013, same-sex marriage is mainstream, but too many Republican leaders cringe even to say the words. It’s not a path to political success.
Jindal offered no real specifics, saying mainly that the party’s focus on number crunching in Washington was the wrong strategy. Instead, he told his audience, the party needed to go to “the place where conservatism thrives – in the real world beyond the Washington Beltway.”
It sounds like good advice, as long as the message of intolerance and, well, stupidity, changes. It won’t help to focus the wrong message in a different place. That is not to say that Republicans have to become more liberal – though they could show more affection for centrists of both parties – but that they need to be realistic about the country that this is.
Jindal seems to be trying to make the party attractive to more voters, and it’s an important effort. He recognizes that the problem is within the party, not in some exterior place. Not so the Republicans in states such as Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio – states that are controlled by Republicans but that voted for President Obama in the past two elections. Those Republicans are trying to rig the contests in their states to give them more electoral votes.
It goes like this: In most states, the candidate who gets the most votes wins all of its electoral votes. Some states want to change the rules so that votes are distributed proportionately to the voting totals.
That, in fact, might not be an unfair system, but what is intolerable is that Republicans in these states want to force the issue for no other reason than to improve their chances in a presidential election. It’s not that different from last year’s efforts to diminish minority voter turnout through voter identification laws. That failed. So did Franklin Roosevelt’s attempts to get more favorable Supreme Court rulings by trying to pack the court.
It’s a loser’s strategy or, as one Democratic Virginia state senator called similar pieces of legislation, “sore loser bills.” It’s blaming voters for the party’s inability to connect.
The answer to the Republican Party’s problems lies in Jindal’s honest, if painful, approach, not in cheesy and disreputable efforts to change the rules. Republicans have won these states under these rules in other elections. They should be able to do it again, but they need to do it by looking voters in the eye and offering them something of value, not by insulting their intelligence.