There has already been endless commentary on where we go from here after the recent election. For my own part, I can only offer a few thoughts.
If the numbers are correct, the Republicans didn’t lose the election because of failure to convince their own. By many measures, Romney out performed both McCain and George W. Bush in the Republican Party stronghold subgroups. Consider that Romney took upwards of 59% of the white vote, while McCain garnered 56% and Bush took 57% and 56% in each of his election years. (Source: Gallup). On the other hand, numerous sources have documented the decline in the Hispanic vote for Republicans of the last several decades.
The reason for the lost election, in part, is the changing demographics of the nation. The subgroups in which Republicans have performed, and continue to perform well, are declining in their representation as a percent of the American people, whereas the demographic subgroups in which the Democrats typically perform well are experiencing an increase in their percent share of the population. The dilemma, it seems, is that these demographic changes are on a trajectory that seems unlikely to change, which spells a particular problem for the Republican Party in years to come. Mitt Romney lost the popular vote by less than three million votes, but ABC news reported on election night that if the percent of vote for each party in the various demographic subgroups stays the same, the Republicans will lose the 2020 election by more than fourteen million votes.
What this suggests is that the Republicans need to think carefully about how to attract votes on which they have not yet had to rely. As Catholics, this should concerns us, because a very real possibility is that some within the party will push for a more relaxed stance on social issues, particularly abortion and same-sex marriage. It doesn’t help that President Obama, after insisting in 2008 that abortion need not be a divisive issue and that we can all agree about the need to reduce the number of abortions, made it the issue of the closing weeks in the election cycle. If the Republican Party puts forth a candidate that is in favor abortion and same sex marriage, Catholics who are interested in following teachings of the magisterium will be left without a candidate for whom they can cast a vote. There will inevitably be a third party, but for many of us, this is not at all desirable. Indeed, there was a time in the 2008 primary when we thought this would happen, had Rudy Giuliani maintained his early momentum.
It could also be that the party will become softer on religious freedom. As American becomes more and more secularized, what was once a “fundamental right” will no longer be seen as important. When the country was founded, virtually everybody had a vested interest in having their religious freedom both codified in the Constitution and defended in the public square. But “times are-a-changin’,” and there are a growing number of people who are militantly opposed to organized religion. It used to be that the atheists would keep to themselves and be content to simply laugh at us, but now they are going more and more on the offensive. If there aren’t enough people who care about the freedom to practice their religion, then it will be difficult indeed to defend against attacks that seek to dismantle that liberty, particularly if the attacks are cloaked in the pursuit of a perceived greater freedom.
I propose that conservative Catholics be proactive in this regard. Rather than waiting for suggestions that we bend on social issues, it is time that we put forward our own: it is time to take up the issue of immigration. Now, I am the first to admit that this is an issue where people of good will can disagree, that the implementation of the principle differs from the principle itself, which is why it is not considered one of the “non-negotiables.” However, we all know that this is the one area that we take the biggest hit from the American episcopacy. Further, I really believe that this is low hanging fruit in some regards. I think we can push forward with a reform agenda without compromising basic principles.
However, and I cannot emphasize this enough, it simply will not do to wait until four years from now. We cannot hope to convince the nation of our seriousness to address this issue just months before an election. We cannot even wait until the midterm elections. The time is now, and here is what I propose to our Republican representatives in Congress:
The financial cliff about which we have read so much in the last couple months is just around the corner. The Bush era tax cuts are on the line. The Republicans rightly want to renew all of these cuts, whereas the Democrats only want to renew those that don’t affect the wealthy. I am not an economist, so I am not equipped to fully discuss the impact of each position. However, it seems to me that the Democrats have enough political capital at the moment to push their agenda through. I suggest that the Republicans in Congress recognize this and make a deal with the President. We (meaning the Republican leadership) will accept his plan for the Bush era tex cuts, but we want assurance that (1) the very first issue tackled after the new year is a serious immigration reform package, and (2) we want to be a part of it. We want our ideas heard, and we want credited with them.
From that point on, the Republican need to maintain both commitment and compassion as the package is assembled. They need to stand up for the principle of basic human dignity and not appear to the stonewall the process. The Republicans have been successfully portrayed by the opposition as the “Party of ‘No.’” That image needs to be disassembled methodically and meticulously.
It may involve some compromise, and the reforms that are put in place may not be perfect by Republican standards. However, if we don’t put forward this area as one in which we can grow and one in which we can take some leadership, there will be pressure from others to “compromise” on other issues, and these will be ones that will violate our Catholic consciences.