Is the Republican Party in trouble? Has it reacted too slowly to America's changing demographics? Should it inch toward the center or stand on its conservative principles and simply do a better job convincing voters of its virtues? The Californian asked those questions of the members of its Sounding Board. Here are some of their responses.
Politics are cyclical, with normal ebbs and flows. The Republican Party has no reason to panic or make drastic principle changes. Historically, the party in power, GOP or Democratic, will stray off the charted course and the opposite party sweeps back into control. What is becoming apparent, however, is that fiscal and social conservatives have lost ground because they make up a smaller percentage (about 35 percent) of the electorate. The liberal base, largely because of monumental demographic changes and the entitlement mindset heavily entrenched during the last four years, is on a path to irreversibly changing the fabric of the country. The two-century tradition of Americans offering a "hand up" to those needing help is quickly becoming a permanent "handout," not just to our deserving and truly needy citizens, but to many who have found it habitually easy to simply get in line to collect their "entitlements."
Republicans should not abandon their conservative principles, but they could do a better job clearly communicating to all that there is plenty of room and opportunity under the big GOP tent. At the same time, take the gloves off and "answer the bell" during the seemingly ongoing, well-organized verbal pelting by the Democrats. Nice guys do finish last!
Neil Walker of Bakersfield works in refinery management.
The Republican Party, the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan, has strong roots and a history of support of diverse issues. Nelson Rockefeller, a moderate Republican, former governor with a wealthy background, was appointed vice president in 1974. President Richard Nixon signed laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act and he created the Environmental Protection Agency. Today, these laws are labeled by extremist Republicans as liberal, a Democratic anathema.
The biggest enemy of a return to this party is the extreme right-wing radio and television programs that whip up a frenzy in their audience, torpedoing Republican moderates and instilling paranoia.
The demographics of America have changed. This was the first election in which Hispanic voters made up a double-digit share of the electorate, 10 percent, doubled from 1996. As to women voters, comments about rape by a few male Republican candidates resonated broadly. They reflected the perception of the GOP as a conclave of out-of-touch men. Opposition to same-sex marriage used to be a way for Republicans to trumpet their morality; now it's seen as highlighting their bigotry.
The GOP needs to save itself from the ERP (Extremist Republican Party): the single-issue element, the one that turns private issues (marriage, reproduction) into public debates.
There is a church in Bakersfield that begins its service each Sunday with this: "No matter where you are on life's journey, you are welcomed here." The GOP would do well to adopt that mantra if it hopes to survive. No party can survive based on fear, anger and bigotry.
Harry Love of Bakersfield is a retired high school teacher.
The Republican Party lost the presidential election because we were outcoached and outplayed. We had the best team, we had the best plan and we had the "fans" on our side. We forgot one small fact: If you want to win in any endeavor, you have to get into the pit and do it.
When you have the nice press releases and the terrific players and think you can ride that to victory, you will find yourself looking at the scoreboard and saying "What happened?"
Does the Republican Party need to change? Well, we believe in God, country and family, we believe in hard work and education to better prepare for a career, we believe in family values, and that does not include unwed mothers, gay marriage and welfare as a career. We believe in schools that actually teach our youth, we believe in a home with a father and mother that are married and of the opposite sex. We believe we should raise our own children and not leave it to a "village." We believe in being fiscally conservative. If you don't have it, don't spend it!
We believe in a strong military, with no apologies to any country for being who we are. Give the world this statement: We can be your best friend or your worst enemy -- your choice.
Republicans must do a more effective job of explaining this concept. No one is going to do it for us!
Jim Reed of Ridgecrest is a retired federal employee.
I wrote at least five drafts to address this question. Then I set them aside and listened for a while to the pundits and politicians. I tore up my drafts. It's clear that it is hopeless.
They are all standing in a circle and pointing at each other. The few, like David Frum, who have dared to point out problems, have been marginalized. There is, I think, a lesson to be learned by the Republican Party, not just from the most recent election, but from the arc of change since the election of 2000. Do they not realize that in the last four presidential cycles, they have only garnered the popular vote once? Do they realize that the election of President Obama in 2008 was not just a race-based fluke, but a sign of change in this nation? Do they realize that the reactionary mid-term election of 2010 was the real outlier here?
It's clear that the party just doesn't get it. The only bright idea I heard came from some younger Republicans who seem to understand that the right-wing media monolith is the anchor weighing the party down. Maybe they will be able to disengage the party from this group (who make a lot of money off a polarized nation) and move forward. If Intrade takes bets on this one, my money will be on Hannity, Limbaugh and company, who appeal to the worst angels of the nature of some Americans. Sad.
Terri Richmond of Bakersfield is a high school history and government teacher.
A party that got 47.8 percent of the popular vote for president, has 45 Senate seats and 233 House seats despite running from the far right and making gaffes like 47 percent of Americans are takers and rape can be something other than horrible, is to be feared by liberals like me.
Minorities are as good as the rest of us, but not better. If Republicans acknowledge the problems those from south of the border face, they will get some Latino votes. Long after I became an M.D., I believed that homosexuality was something a patient should overcome. If I can learn that I was wrong, so will Republicans. The oil, coal and natural gas industries will not be able to prevent Republicans from seeing the scientific proof for anthropogenic climate disruption (global warming) any longer than the tobacco industry made Americans doubt that tobacco destroyed users' health.
Art Unger is a retired physician and environmental activist.
The question as to whether the GOP is at a crisis point has been answered by virtually every op-ed writer and party strategist, Democrat and Republican, resoundingly: "Yes." The sole exception is Grover Norquist.
Let me point out something that is at least equally important: Kern County, with its (almost) entirely "red" delegation to the state Legislature, has been rendered absolutely irrelevant to state government. Our representatives taking the hard, abolitionist Republican line can say what they want here, but in Sacramento, given a Democratic supermajority, their statements are simply hot air. Perhaps the party and its elected representatives need to think again.
David Stanton is a Bakersfield attorney.