One of my lesser known traits is that I’m a huge Trekkie (and I don’t say “huge” lightly). However, the Star Trek universe had recently been undergoing a pretty substantial collapse, culminating in the closing of Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas. Desperately trying to revive the franchise, Paramount Pictures contacted J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman to create a film that would appeal to a wider audience than the typical Star Trek movie — in essence, entirely rebooting the franchise. One of my concerns as a fanboy was that doing this would substantially change the franchise from Gene Roddenberry’s original vision. Judging by the success of Star Trek so far and the overwhelmingly positive reviews the movie has received from both critics and viewers (it is now #62 on IMDB’s top 250 movie list), the reboot has successfully achieved its goal of widespread appeal. And although there were a number of deviations from the days of Roddenberry in the new film, I was able to reconcile these deviations with the fact that the franchise was in dire need of change to regain the widespread appeal that was necessary to keep it alive.
Now how does all of this relate to politics? Well, after the devastating 2008 elections, many of those on the right (myself included) believed that things couldn’t get much worse. After all, President-elect Obama had just won in a decisive landslide, and Republicans lost 8 seats in the Senate and 21 in the House. The Democrats outpaced Republicans in virtually every area, and the only glimmer of hope Republicans could hold onto for the next two years was the knowledge that Republicans would be able to filibuster Obama’s most radical plans in the Senate. Today, even this looks incredibly unlikely with Senator Specter switching sides and the reality setting in that comedian-turned-politician Al Franken will likely be the next Senator from Minnesota. For a while I felt cautiously optimistic about the 2010 elections — the energy of Rebuild the Party and similar movements to rebuild the GOP was profound, conservatives seemed to be on the brink of a rightroots movement, Michael Steele took over the reigns at the RNC, and Joseph Cao achieved enormous electoral victory while Jim Tedisco seemed poised to win in NY’s 20th. However, much has changed since those developments, and it seems that Republicans are not on the best track to turn the tide in 2010, let alone in 2012 or beyond. Indeed, although a turnaround is possible, the clock is ticking, and like the Star Trek franchise, the only way that the GOP can turn things around is with a complete reboot.
Over at Time magazine, Michael Grunwald raises some important points about this matter. He writes:
The party’s ideas — about economic issues, social issues and just about everything else — are not popular ideas. They are extremely conservative ideas tarred by association with the extremely unpopular George W. Bush, who helped downsize the party to its extremely conservative base. A hard-right agenda of slashing taxes for the investor class, protecting marriage from gays, blocking universal health insurance and extolling the glories of waterboarding produces terrific ratings for Rush Limbaugh, but it’s not a majority agenda.
While I find much of the content of his argument biased and inaccurate, the overarching point he raises is that the issues Republicans are pursuing are not those of “a majority agenda.” Regardless of whether conservative positions on these issues are popular or unpopular, they aren’t the kind of issues that build a majority and win elections — particularly during trying economic times. This is an important point that Republicans must somehow reconcile if they wish to return to majority status. Jon Henke points out (emphasis added):
The Republican brand does not merely need a little tinkering. The Republican brand is not the victim of Democratic rhetoric and framing. The Republican brand is so bad because people accurately perceive the state of the Republican Party.
And although it is sometimes well deserved (see Arlen Specter’s vote on Obama’s stimulus package), lambasting all of our moderate Senators and Congressmen doesn’t help. One of the things I used to celebrate about the Republican Party was its diversity in ideology — something that continues to diminish with the loss of Specter, giving the Democrats the opportunity to be the ideologically ‘diverse’ party. In a two party system, you cannot build a winning coalition that encompasses only the far side of the political spectrum. The bottom line is that Republicans will likely never see another day in the majority if its electorate only supports candidates with impeccable conservative credentials, outcasting any elected officials or candidates who are near the political middle. In states such as my own (Pennsylvania) and many others in the region, a Republican candidate can only win the general election if he or she is moderate. For just one example of the impact of accepting moderates, look to the U.S. Senate — would you rather have 11 moderate Republicans in the Senate in addition to our current Senators and hold a majority, or only allow full-on conservatives and sit comfortably in the filibuster-proof minority?
The fact is that it is time for a reboot, or as Henke says, “actual, painful, reform.” The Republican Party needs to find new issues around which to coalesce, issues that appeal to mainstream Americans and are not knee-jerk reactions against the Obama administration’s plans. One thing that Republicans cannot wait for is the Democrats to fail. Meanwhile, GOP voters need to realize that moderates — who may not always be perfectly conservative — have their place in a nationally viable party. Only with these recognitions and a total overhaul of the GOP can Republicans move maximum warp speed ahead into the future.