Which Way GOP?
PARIS—As I prepare for my departure this week I find a somewhat interesting parallel between what’s going on here with the conservative Movement for a Popular Union (UMP), which lost this spring’s presidential and parliamentary elections to Socialist Francois Hollande, and the soul-searching Republicans are supposedly undergoing following Barack Obama’s re-election.
A UMP party election was held recently to determine who would lead the party and presumably become its next presidential candidate. The party is substantially split between the strongly anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim right and its more moderate wing, though both sides are closer on economics.
Far-right-winger Jean-Francois Cope was the apparent winner by razor-thin margin, but the more moderate former prime minister Francois Fillon, contested the election, charging fraud—which some officials acknowledge—Cope, however, refuses to give up or submit to an adjudication process.
Thus the party is in chaos at the moment, with Marine LePen of the extreme right nationalist party sort of cheering them on, hoping the UMP will split and she will benefit from defections on Cope side. To complicate matters, defeated president Nicolas Sarkozy is making noises about running again—all of which ultimately redounds to the benefit of the ruling Socialist party.
Now, back at home, you hear from almost all Republicans that they must do something to broaden their appeal beyond its narrowing white base—mainly chatter about immigration reform. But what kind and how can they be sure they will break the Democratic stranglehold on the growing Latino vote? (I doubt they will do it with Latino leadership coming from Cubans such as Marco Rubio, the smallest and least liked Latino subgroup.)
Rush Limbaugh screeches that they will never become a pro-choice or feminist party, so the issue is what dearly held conservative tenets might be compromised.
I have no idea. We must remember, however, that only a few years ago, national Democrats quietly abolished one of their closely held progressive stances: gun control. The issue permanently lost them West Virginia as well as numerous congressional seats. The 2004 party platform invoked the Second Amendment for the first time in its history. Except for certain big cities like Chicago and some suburbs, Democrats are now totally silent on the issue or make only the most modest suggestions such as reinstating the assault weapons ban or restricting deadly 22-round bullet clips.
Obama was mum on the matter even after the mass killings in Denver and near Milwaukee during the campaign—which brought howls from the progressive wing but obviously did not cost him votes. Obama and the Dems also eased off on their strongest dovish positions and became more national-security oriented.
They even embraced pro-life candidates such as Pennsylvania’s Senator Bob Casey when it came to a choice between winning and losing.
The big question is what fundamental principles or tenets dare the GOPers eliminate or water down without losing their base? Their current positions on most social issues obviously won’t make them a majority party again, barring some extreme Democratic screw up.
Which is always a good possibility.
Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer