Internal disagreement is common for an out-party (the party not in the White House) especially one that is still licking its wounds from losing a second presidential election in a row. But the political infighting creates unnecessary spectacle and keeps party leaders – and followers – playing defense. It also prevents them from building a winning coalition for the next few elections.
Instead of grabbing headlines as they fight each other over tactics, Republicans should be carefully planning a way to restore their brand and regain their position as a broad-based national party. Rebuilding will take time, and Republicans need to reconnect with voters before the next election season thrusts into high gear.
The best way to begin the process is to reorient efforts away from the party’s fringe and appeal instead to the party’s natural base, the conservatives and conservative-leaning moderates who represent a majority of the American electorate.
Republicans have spent too much time focusing on the far-right edge of their coalition, alienating many mainstream conservatives and swing voters. Tea party activists have made a lot of noise and even spoiled some elections. But at the end of the day, an angry anti-government faction is not the foundation on which to build a broad-based national party.
Instead of placating the activists with the shrillest voices, party leaders need to find new ways to reach out to disaffected conservatives and moderates who are longing for a political home. Ultimately politics is a numbers game, and the numbers suggest there is ample space for a center-right resurgence.
A singular focus on Republican losses in the last two presidential elections deflects attention from the fact that Republicans are faring much better at the state level. Republicans hold 30 state governorships and have unified party control of state legislatures in 23 states, while the Democrats control 13 state legislatures.
Polling data show that party leaders have room to build on these successes at the state level. Both parties must reach out to moderates and independents to build winning electoral coalitions, but Republicans have a numerical advantage.