Escaping electoral purgatory

ESCAPING ELECTORAL PURGATORY…. In the wake of a fairly devastating Election Day last month, Republican leaders have been throwing around very ideas about dragging themselves out of their ditch. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the #3 person in the House Republican leadership, for example, believes the party should focus on welfare reform and privatizing public schools. Governors like Tim Pawlenty (Minn.) and Mark Sanford (S.C.) have dabbled in Neo-Hooverism, calling for a balanced-budget amendment and drastic spending reductions, respectively.

It’s probably safe to say the party hasn’t quite found its road map. Tom Edsall considers some of the strategies before concluding that Republicans may ultimately be wasting their time: it’s going to be a while before Republicans can recover.

I was struck, though, by the advice from David Frum:

“College-educated Americans have come to believe that their money is safe with Democrats — but that their values are under threat from Republicans. And there are more and more of these college-educated Americans all the time. So the question for the GOP is: will it pursue them? To do so will involve painful change, on issues ranging from the environment to abortion.

And it will potentially involve even more painful changes of style and tone: toward a future that is less overtly religious, less negligent with policy, and less polarizing on social issues. That is a future that leaves little room for [Sarah] Palin — but it is the only hope for a Republican recovery.”

That sounds pretty compelling to me. In effect, Frum is urging his party to, for lack of a better word, modernize. As he sees it, the Republican Party would be more competitive in the long run if it takes the environment seriously, respects women’s rights, drops the knee-jerk reactionary style of politics, becomes more secular, starts doing their homework on policy disputes, and generally gets over the culture war. Good advice.

I’m afraid, though, that the prescription is not without flaw. Frum thinks his vision of a modern Republican Party would leave “little room” for the Palins of the party. That’s true. But wouldn’t it also make the GOP rather inhospitable for, you know, Republicans?

If Frum believes the future is bright for the party that caters to secular policy wonks who care about climate change, science, reproductive health, and above-board campaigning, it’s no wonder he’s worried.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.