Florida GOP Needs to Stop Infighting, Widen Base

Nov 8, 2012 by

After the most expensive presidential election in history produced unsatisfactory results, it’s time for the Grand Old Party to take a long, hard look at where we are and how we got here.

President Barack Obama’s win in both the Electoral College and the popular vote, along with his lead in Florida, left many Republicans stunned.

The insistence that the polls were wrong, the echo chamber of conservative TV and radio pundits, the delusion that more swing states were in play all gave conservatives unrealistic expectations despite the data being reported by the mainstream media.

For several years, particularly in Florida, there has been a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. Many elected Republicans who were once considered conservative are now criticized as too moderate. To appease the increasingly extreme base, policies were proposed that alienated some key voting groups.

The mantra that all government involvement is bad does not resonate with young people, many of whom believe that government can play a productive role in their lives, key among them is an affordable college education.

Women are concerned about equal pay and opportunity in the workplace. Minorities want all taxpayers to pay their fair share and many are eager for the government to provide a sensible path to citizenship.

Republicans have not embraced these issues and have often taken strong positions against them in primaries, making it difficult to pivot in the general election.

The GOP has relied on older white, male voters and that demographic is shifting. Our base is shrinking. It’s time for the party to acknowledge the importance of diversity and to start to appeal to women, minorities and young voters. For the party to succeed, we need to expand our base.

Another area of concern is the major disconnect within the party faithful.

While some feel the party isn’t sufficiently pure, other longtime party members feel that the party has become too conservative. Those who don’t pass the conservative “litmus tests” are castigated and ostracized.

Many are dubbed RINO’s (Republicans in name only) and are made to feel very uncomfortable and unwelcome in the party. The lack of civility and tolerance has hurt the party.

How does it make sense to chase people from the party with name-calling? That’s not the way to grow a party. Civility, tolerance, and inclusiveness will turn our pup tent into a party tent.

The electorate sent a clear message that they want bipartisanship and cooperation. Gov. Mitt Romney called for working together, but the candidate’s words did not match the party’s actions.

The Republican Legislature passed an elections reform bill that many viewed as nothing more than an attempt to suppress the vote. Further, Gov. Rick Scott doubled down with a voter purge dangerously close to the election using flawed lists.

The election law changes shortened the period for early voting, more heavily used by Democratic Party voters and low-income workers who can’t take time off of work.

Ministers were upset about losing the opportunity to bring “souls to the polls” on the Sunday before the election. But instead of whining, they turned “lemons into lemonade” and motivated their flocks to endure long lines at the polls. The lines circling the buildings made for terrible visuals for Scott, who denied requests to expand early voting.

It’s hard to imagine that the party that dominates most statewide elected offices as well as both chambers of the Legislature could lose sight of how we achieved that success.

With unlimited potential for fundraising, with a deep bench of political talent and with total control of state government, it is unfathomable that the Florida GOP could lose the U.S. Senate race by 12 percentage points and lose the presidential race in the current economic climate.

My criticisms are not out of anger or disloyalty, but rather a heartfelt desire to restore the civility, tolerance, and inclusiveness that will once again allow us to be the party of Reagan.

Had we started to correct the course, to recognize the changing demographics, to enlarge the tent and to welcome others in, the outcome of Tuesday’s election would have been very different.

All columns are (c) Paula Dockery | No reprint rights to whole columns are ever granted without express permission. | To syndicate Paula Dockery's columns please write to PBDockery@gmail.com