As Daily Kos reported on November 21, Democrat Mark Herring is poised to win Virginia's attorney general race. The online publication noted that, " every vote has officially been counted -- and Mark Herring has won the race for Attorney General," while also noting that his Republican opponent, Mark Obenshain, "refuses to accept the decision made by Virginia voters." Thus, in essence, Democrats have accomplished the remarkable: they have swept the 2013 elections in a Southern state, a former member of the Confederacy, and one notorious for being rigidly conservative.
Almost certainly, Herring will face a painful, drawn-out recount, but the damage is done. Republicans nationwide have tried desperately to downplay the results of the 2013 Virginia elections, stating (correctly) that Ken Cuccinelli and Obenshain lost by razor-thin margins. That's true, but a loss is a loss, and, now, the most powerful offices in this Southern state are held by Democrats. The new governor is a Democrat, as is the newly-elected lieutenant governor. Most likely, the new attorney general will be a Democrat. Finally, Virginia's current two senators are Democrats. To add to the Republicans' woes, the state's electorate voted in Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012. It is now a solidly Blue state, and a Democratic stronghold.
It is highly possible that the 2013 elections have comprised an unmitigated disaster for the Republican Party. What can the GOP learn from this debacle? It can learn a great deal. Here are just a few of the lessons that the Party of Lincoln must learn to stay competitive, both locally and nationally:
1. The Republican Party must drop its emphasis upon polarizing social issues. The GOP was once known as the party of common-sense and limited regulation, but no more. It now seems obsessed with forcing upon a hesitant, ambivalent electorate a divisive right-wing agenda, and this corrosive obsession has cost it dearly. Most Americans firmly believe that gays and lesbians should enjoy full constitutional rights, even if many of them personally disapprove of homosexual behavior. Americans' views on the theory of evolution are equally complex, but most still feel that educators should have the academic freedom to teach their students about this fundamental biological concept. Few Americans--even liberal Democrats--are enthusiastic about abortion, but most do regard it as a necessary evil. Finally, most Americans believe in the phenomenon of climate change (given that the vast majority of scientists believe in it), and look to government and industry to provide remedies to contain it. If Republicans wish to maintain their competitiveness, they must drop their incendiary, deeply unpopular rhetoric in regards to these issues.
2. The Republican Party must drop its close affiliation with the Tea Party. The Tea Party--which essentially rules the GOP now--is reviled by mainstream America. According to a Pew Research survey that was conducted on October 16, only 30% of the American electorate had a favorable impression of the Tea Party. Not surprisingly, Ken Cuccinelli and E.W. Jackson were lionized by Virginia's Tea Party members--and both candidates lost decisively. Other Tea Party-backed candidates in the American 2013 elections fared poorly, as did Republican Steve Lonegan in the race for New Jersey senator. As Fox News reported on October 17, Democrat Cory Booker trounced the far-right Republican, 55-to-44 percent. Tea Party Republicans fared disastrously in the national 2012 elections as well. By now, every Republican candidate should regard a Tea Party endorsement as being the kiss-of-death.
3. Republicans should get back to their roots. Lonegan may have underperformed, but another New Jersey Republican candidate, Chris Christie, soared in the race for governor. He won in a landslide, mostly because he remains a traditional Republican, focusing on eliminating unwieldy regulations, cutting taxes, and streamlining government operations. Meanwhile, he wisely stays mum on controversial social issues, such as gay marriage. Because of his moderation and pragmatism, most New Jersey voters--both Democratic and Republican ones--positively adore him.
4. For decades, the Republican Party has claimed to be the "Big Tent" party, and it should start acting like one. Its chief constituency, older white males, is declining precipitously. Most other demographic groups, such as women, liberals, blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, Asian-Americans, Jews, young people, and those with graduate degrees, tend to vote Democratic, and many of these groups are on the ascent. If Republicans can't reach these voters (and they didn't in Virginia), the party is doomed, going the way of the Whig Party.
These lessons are easy to understand, and they make sense. Will the GOP incorporate them, though? Most likely, it will not, simply because it is under the heels of the extremists. Because of this dominance, expect the once-great Republican Party to decline even more.