Republican anger and denial

  • 6 December 2012
  • From the section US & Canada
  • comments
Sen Jim DeMint (R-SC) speaks with reporters outside the Senate chamber 15 December 2010 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jim DeMint says he can do more for conservatism outside of the Senate

Losing an election is much like bereavement for a political party and many Republicans are still going through the stages of anger and denial.

It could have been much worse for them. I had suspected that by now there would be civil war between centrists and conservatives. There have been some calls for what amounts to "Cameronisation".

But the debate is not yet dividing along those lines.

Indeed, some on the right have been among the first to grasp the nettle, trying to work out how the party can have broader appeal, beyond its white base.

Marco Rubio recently made a speech underlying his concern for the poor. Paul Ryan now sees the target group as the middle classes. Most Republicans believe they have to do more to persuade Hispanics to vote for them.

But it doesn't always come naturally.

Burns v Coulter

The Simpson's Mr Burns is a picture of empathy in this wonderful outtake, compared with commentator Ann Coulter.

In an extraordinary article entitled "el tipping pointo" she nearly, almost, suggests Republicans can never win again, but then pulls back from that conclusion. Her main observation is that Mr Romney won the white vote.

But she says the problem is America has been transformed by a "deluge of unskilled immigrants", from the third-world, who far from upholding the American Dream, are bent on "having illegitimate children and going on welfare".

She says the trend of legal migration has to be reversed because "no amount of 'reaching out' to the Hispanic community, effective 'messaging' or Reagan's 'optimism' is going to turn Mexico's underclass into Republicans".

Three-quarters of the way through the article, one grows alarmed what her solution might be to deal with these wrong-headed Americans. But she doesn't have one, merely accepting that "Republicans have to do more than just win the white vote. They have to run the table."

Tighter immigration rules should be just the ticket, then.

Votes v principles

But amid the histrionics there is a point. Softer language is not the same as policies that will appeal to a specific group.

When a party tries to change itself, an early desire to look different can be abandoned when key supporters realise this means real changes.

Smart leaders, such as UK Prime Minister David Cameron and one of his predecessors, Tony Blair, embrace those battles as a symbol of their resolve to drag their party into new territory. Others will see this as chasing votes at the expense of principles.

Here in the States, immigration will be a very important touchstone. But so will the balance between social and economic issues.

Tea Party stalwart Jim DeMint, who has just resigned his Senate seat to become head of the Heritage Foundation, an important conservative think tank, will be an loud voice in all of this.

He has already been scathing about John Boehner's rather wooden proposals to reach a deal with President Obama over the fiscal cliff.

Mr DeMint also fought against George W Bush's proposals on immigration reform, and in 2010 repeated his belief that gays and people living together unmarried should not be allowed to be teachers.

Republicans have a long way to go before that final stage of bereavement: acceptance.

More on this story