The Republican Party is at a critical crossroads. The country's tenuous economic future has Americans yearning for effective fiscal policy while limiting the role of government in our personal lives. These principles once defined the GOP, and it is time the party reaffirms them.
Economic stability is the top concern for Americans, and polls confirm that a majority trusts Republicans more than Democrats to handle our recovery. Despite this advantage, Republicans were again rejected in the last election as voters grew fed up with ill-informed pandering on social policy. In just one generation, a fundamentalist platform and extreme candidates transformed the GOP from a vibrant national party to a regional one that speaks mostly to and for religious conservatives and "old white men." This ignores changing demographics and cannot sustain the GOP, much less propel it back into the majority.
Democrats recognize that keeping social issues at the forefront of the national debate offers them a distinct political advantage. And Republicans, with their rape-deniers, go out of their way to oblige, handing yet another political point to the Democrats. Just last week, Rep. Trent Franks led a fight to limit reproductive choices and refused to allow abortion exemptions for victims of rape. Franks dismissed this nonchalantly, saying the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy is low. It makes you want to shake him, doesn't it?
Lifelong Republicans often disagree with the party's social positions, yet they seem to have blinders on when it comes to their understanding of how to get the job done. They say, "personal choice is important, but it is not 'my issue' — fiscal policy matters most to me." But a party can't affect fiscal policy if it doesn't hold a majority. For the GOP to regain a majority, it must appeal to a broader constituency.
The Republican National Committee's Growth and Opportunity Project, meant to rebrand the GOP and reach women, minority and younger voters, showed promise as the party conceded that many believe the GOP is "scary" and "out-of-touch." The committee attempted to strike a compromise suggesting, for example, that women's reproductive choice is an important economic issue, a case the Republican Majority for Choice has made for years.
However, the report called mainly for new rhetoric and improved packaging, rather than a re-examination of the policies that offended the vital missing voting blocks.
Better marketing alone is not the solution. The party platform, which staunchly opposes equality for gay Americans, bans lifesaving medical options for women and denies the full range of choices for rape victims, is so far out of the mainstream that it might as well be in Saudi Arabia. Nearly 60 percent of Americans support gay marriage. That number skyrockets to 81 percent for voters under 30. Similarly, a majority support effective family planning and keeping abortion safe and legal. In fact, in a Gallup Poll this year, Americans who want Roe v. Wade overturned once again fell below 30 percent.
The GOP must get back to its small government, fiscally conservative roots and fiercely protect the rights of individuals, while putting taxpayer savings above political pandering. Outdated labels like pro- or anti-choice no longer sum up the views of a majority of Republicans.
The GOP needs to find solutions and common ground, starting with a platform that recognizes and respects differing views on social policy. This must include strengthening positions on issues such as cost-effective, preventive reproductive health care. Smart investment in prevention will reduce unintended pregnancy and abortion. This is real conservative policy, socially and fiscally responsible, with nearly $4 saved for every taxpayer dollar spent on contraceptive care.
As the country becomes more diverse, future generations will be less tolerant of ideological extremism. Real Republicans want a course correction now, showing that true conservatism means curbing the growth of government in all aspects, not just fiscal policy.
After continual election losses, will our leaders finally wake up? Lifelong Republicans who dedicate time and resources to the party can no longer, despite their very real fiscal concerns, hold their nose and vote for Republicans who refuse to protect their rights. We represent the emerging demographics of our ever-changing citizenship, and the GOP cannot afford to calmly watch us go.
Susan Bevan of Greenwich is the national co-chairwoman of the Republican Majority for Choice.Copyright © 2015, CT Now