The First Step Is Admitting You Have A Problem

Via the incomparable James Lileks comes a map that should send chills down the spine of every Republican:

A county-by-county map of the 2008 election results.
A county-by-county map of the 2008 election results.

Even though this election was relatively close, the map does not show that McCain did very well in spreading his message nationwide. The Republican Party cannot hope to win as a regional party any more than the Democrats could. The task for the coming years will be in crafting a Republican message that can resonate beyond the Bible Belt of the country.

The good news is that this country remains a center-right country. There are still more self-described conservatives than liberals, and the center remains persuadable. If Obama over-reaches—and with a strident liberal Congress that is quite likely, the Republicans can come back again. This isn’t necessarily a realigning election that presages a Democratic majority for years to come any more than 2004 was the same. The normal political cycle of realigning elections in this country seems to be dramatically shortened thanks to mass media and technology. Republicans shouldn’t be consigning themselves to defeat yet.

But we have to admit that this map shows a massive problem. The strategies of exploiting cultural wedge issues and national security won’t work anymore. The Karl Rove playbook worked in 2000, 2002, and 2004. It didn’t in 2006 or 2008, and it won’t work in 2010 and 2012. The Republican Party needs to broaden itself and admit that it has a problem reaching out to the center.

Granted, the 2008 result was largely due to two factors: President Bush’s unpopularity and Barack Obama’s immense political skill. Those factors aren’t going to repeat themselves again—and in 2012 it could be a skilled Republican like Bobby Jindal versus an unpopular President Obama. But even if that is true, the problems with the Republican Party are structural, and need to be fixed.

I don’t pretend to have the right answer. There’s going to be gallons of ink and gigabytes of blog posts figuring out where to go next. What I do know is that something has got to change, and the Republican Party will have to adapt to a changing political climate. That does not have to mean compromising on our values—Republicans can win in places like the Northeast without compromising on key values. But it’s also going to require the GOP to do more than try to use cultural wedge issues to their partisan advantage.

In a democracy, parties can and should win and lose. Politics is cyclical, and the Republican Party has done much to put themselves in this position. The goal moving forward is to rebuild the party for a post-Bush world. There can be a Republican renaissance, but only if the party and its constituents are willing to make it happen.