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Will the Republican Party Learn to Adapt and Appeal to a Changing Electorate?

November 8, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Election exit polls show that Republicans failed to earn votes from the growing demographics of minorities and young people. Jeffrey Brown talks to strategist Leslie Sanchez, FreedomWorks' Matt Kibbe and super PAC Y-G Action Fund's Brad Dayspring about how the GOP needs to change the way it explains its platform.

JEFFREY BROWN: After the vote, where does the Republican Party go from here? One thing it clearly faces, a changing electorate.

Exit polls showed that Mitt Romney lost every demographic, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, except for white voters, who favored the Republican nominee.

Romney won among older voters, but the president led among those under age 44. And he captured 60 percent of the 18-to-29-year-old vote, which turned out in greater numbers than in 2008.

Exit polls also sampled attitudes on the Tea Party; 21 percent said they support the movement, 30 percent opposed it, and 42 percent declared themselves neutral.

We do our own sampling now with three party members: Leslie Sanchez, a Republican strategist and author of “Los Republicanos: Why Hispanics and Republicans Need Each Other,” Matt Kibbe, president and CEO of FreedomWorks, an organization that’s supported Tea Party rallies and promotes limited government and lower taxes, and Brad Dayspring, a senior adviser to the conservative superPAC YG Action Fund. Y-G stands for Young Guns. He’s a former aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

And, Leslie Sanchez, I want to start with you. Simple question: What is the number-one lesson Republicans should take from Tuesday’s election?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, Republican Strategist: Most importantly, the GOP has failed to adjust to the American demographic realignment.

And particularly I want to talk about Hispanic voters. As you have seen this dramatic rise in the Hispanic electorate becoming more politically mobilized, politicized, especially in swing states, you have not seen Republican candidates capture consistently the amount of support they’re going to need.

JEFFREY BROWN: Reach out to them or change the message or what?

LESLIE SANCHEZ: Well, it’s a combination of both.

If you look at the last 40 years, Republicans have averaged about 30 percent of the vote. We have had high points from Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush.

But those were individual candidates who had strong appeals. Richard Nixon had a Spanish-speaking Cabinet commission. Ronald Reagan had the first Hispanic Cabinet position, and George W. Bush did education reform and a lot of policy initiatives way in advance.

With somebody like Gov. Romney, he’s at a disadvantage because many people didn’t know him.

JEFFREY BROWN: Matt Kibbe, was it the candidate or was it the party’s message, or was it this reaching-out question?

MATT KIBBE, FreedomWorks: I think it was probably all three of those things. And I would start with the candidate and the candidate’s campaign.

It really didn’t have a lot of policy substance to it. He ran against Barack Obama’s agenda.

But you didn’t hear a lot about what the Republican agenda was. There was no positive message. And on things like health care, on things like balancing the budget, those are the issues that defined 2010. And those candidates that ran on them in 2012 did quite well.

But you didn’t hear that from Mitt Romney, and I think that was a drag. I also think that perhaps the Republican Party should consider a different strategy than just choosing the next old white guy that happens to be standing in the queue.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Brad Dayspring, pick up on that, because the party did after much to and fro in the primaries coalesce around this one candidate.

BRAD DAYSPRING, YG Action Fund: The party did coalesce around him.

I think both panelists are exactly right. Right now, Mitt Romney was speaking to this portion of the electorate, and he needs to start talking to this portion of the electorate. Barack Obama was very good at turning out his key constituencies, which are blacks, Hispanics and college-educated single women.

Republicans need to start communicating to a broader swathe. And that includes Hispanics for sure. It includes women. It includes younger voters. And most concerning, President Obama turned out voters under 29 in greater numbers than he did in 2008.

And so Republicans need to take note. Since 1998, when George H.W. Bush was elected, we have only one the popular vote in one national election, and that should be concerning. And I don’t think it’s because we’re wrong on the issues. I think our issues are pretty good.

What we have to start doing is communicating and reaching out to people.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what does communicating mean, if not with a different message? I mean, if the message was there, it didn’t seem to be heard.

BRAD DAYSPRING: Well, again, it’s who you’re talking to.

And I would argue that Mitt Romney didn’t talk directly to some of these voters. I don’t think they invested a lot of time talking to Hispanics about issues that are most important to them. Like I heard Matt say, I don’t think they spent a lot of time talking and outlying an agenda that really resonated with people.

They spent a lot of time saying the economy is broken, and I think people agree with that. They spent a lot of time saying President Obama failed to get people back to work. I think people agree with that. What they didn’t say is specifically how are they going to do it.

JEFFREY BROWN: When you look, though, at a specific issue like immigration for Hispanics, you had a candidate who at least seemed to tack to the right during the primaries, and then tried to tack back to the — to some kind of middle for the general election. It didn’t work.

LESLIE SANCHEZ: No, and immigration reform has been that albatross around the neck of many Republican candidates because they don’t want to address the issue, I believe, head on.

There’s a lot of myths about how Latinos feel about immigration reform. We’re really pretty much split. There’s a lot of support along the Southwest for border enforcement. Are individuals paying taxes? What is their intent? Why are they here?

But, also, there’s a compassionate message that needs to be heard along with that. And I think many Republicans have been tone-deaf in those areas. They have turned off a lot of women.

JEFFREY BROWN: Tone-deaf in how they say it or in what they’re saying?

LESLIE SANCHEZ: In how they talk about it.

Well, I mean, to the extreme case of even in the primary debates of “electrified fences” or “those people” or “illegals.”

JEFFREY BROWN: Because that was there.

LESLIE SANCHEZ: Oh, my gosh. It raises the hair on the back of any person’s neck.

And I will tell you, a lot of independent voters didn’t like that type of messaging, because it sounds as if you’re isolating people, and it’s dehumanizing in many senses.

JEFFREY BROWN: Matt Kibbe, I want to ask you about the Tea Party specifically, that graphic we saw.

Was the vote a rejection of the Tea Party, do you think, at least at the national level? Because we saw a lot of strength at state level in 2010, and then what happened this time?

MATT KIBBE: Well, I think if you think about the Tea Party in terms of a set of fiscal issues, fiscal responsibility, keeping government out of our health care, getting — doing something about this massive government and $16 trillion in debt, those issues still played.

You had a number of Senate Democrats who ran successfully on fiscal responsibility. And I would point also to House Republicans. You remember Nancy Pelosi saying the Ryan budget and that vote was going to be the albatross around the necks of incumbent Republicans running in the House.

Well, House Republicans after that huge pickup in 2010, that Tea Party surge of 63 seats, it’s pretty much a status quo.

And the net balance of new fiscal conservatives coming into the House actually outweighs the losses we had with Allen West and a number of other guys.

JEFFREY BROWN: But, Matt Kibbe, staying with you, could a Tea Party nominee win at the national level? That’s I think the next question, because if one of the primary — someone else had won those primaries, come out of the primaries, instead of Mitt Romney, a Tea Party candidate, would he or she have won? And could they?

MATT KIBBE: Well, look at the field for 2016. Everyone that I would mention, starting with Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, maybe Nikki Haley, not only have we added new diversity, but all of those candidates ran on these core issues of fiscal responsibility.

The resonance of the Tea Party in the future, I think, has to do with those issues. The Tea Party is not a political party. We’re not going to run a candidate for president.

JEFFREY BROWN: What do you think about that, Brad Dayspring? Could someone coming out of the Tea Party movement win at the national level? Is that the way for the party will go?

BRAD DAYSPRING: I agree with Matt that the Tea Party is a part of the Republican Party. Conservatives are part of the Republican Party. So, sure, it’s absolutely possible. Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan are associated with the Tea Party movement, so certainly.

But going back to something Leslie said, it’s how you communicate these issues. You can’t be talking about electrified fences and cattle prods when you’re talking about immigration.

Look, the country is for border security. The country is for a reasonable immigration policy, but it’s how you communicate that reasonable immigration policy.

JEFFREY BROWN: What about on various other social issues? We saw it for the first time on gay marriage, for example, on same-sex marriage.

BRAD DAYSPRING: When it comes to gay marriage or abortion, women in this country aren’t turned off by people who are pro-life. There are plenty of people pro-life in all of our families.

What they’re opposed do are people who sound like a caveman when they talk about being pro-life. So there’s a smart way to communicate these issues. People do it every single day.

JEFFREY BROWN: So you’re saying — you’re still saying, keep the policy, but change the way you talk about it and who you talk to?

BRAD DAYSPRING: Well, it’s being rational and reasonable and understanding that there might be a different view, but it’s trying to find common ground without compromising your principles.

A lot of times in our movement, conservatives often hear modernize and adapt and they hear liberalize. And that’s not equal. We shouldn’t adapt and become more liberal. What we need to do is become more rational, reasonable and communicate better.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do you think, Leslie Sanchez, that the party faces an open conflict now or a — perhaps it needs — you started off by saying this was a — I forget how you put it — a kind of defining moment here.


JEFFREY BROWN: Does it need a shakeup or a shakedown in some sense?

LESLIE SANCHEZ: If the Republican Party doesn’t heed this warning — and this is the warning about the massive demographic shift we’re talking about — we will cease to be a majority party. It’s very simple. The math doesn’t add up, not only with the size and growth of the population, but the engagement level and the enthusiasm level.

But just to a point, if I can very quickly, it’s on these social and economic issues that Republicans have earned the support of Hispanic voters, everything from protecting marriage between a man and a woman — you have a lot of charismatic Catholic evangelical Latino voters. You have young guns, kind of first-generation college-educated who are concerned about pocketbook issues.

And it’s a wide range of individuals, but they need to hear a message that resonates and that is consistent.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do you think, Brad Dayspring, that there is a kind of, I don’t know, bloodbath puts it too much, but a real strong conflict coming within the party for its future?

BRAD DAYSPRING: Well, I think after every tough election cycle, parties need to adapt, modernize, see what they did wrong, and improve upon it.

It’s like a sports team. When you lose the World Series each year, you don’t go and copy your opponent.

What you do is, you see what you did right, see what you did wrong, and you make the changes to go and win the following year, like Ronald Reagan did in 1980. If you look, Barry Goldwater was the formation of the Reagan conservative movement, and Ronald Reagan modernized and adapted.

He didn’t liberalize. And that’s what Republicans today have to do. They have to adapt, communicate and communicate to a different electorate than existed 20 years ago.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Brad Dayspring, Matt Kibbe and Leslie Sanchez, thank you all very much.



MATT KIBBE: Thank you.