GOP Problems

It's More Than Just Demographics

02.15.13 7:45 PM ET

Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner use the 1972 to 1992 Democratic example to see what steps the GOP can take to reverse their fortunes, while not losing their basic ideals.

For four decades, our adversarial relationship with the Soviet Union was a major issue in presidential elections. Over that period, and particularly from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, Republicans were widely considered the stronger and more trustworthy party when it came to national defense and to keeping America safe…. With the end of the Cold War in 1989, this potent issue was largely taken off the table. Nor has the decidedly mixed legacy of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade worked to bolster the Republicans’ electoral advantage in the conduct of foreign policy; if anything, the opposite is the case.

It is no wonder that Republican policies can seem stale; they are very nearly identical to those offered up by the party more than 30 years ago. For Republicans to design an agenda that applies to the conditions of 1980 is as if Ronald Reagan designed his agenda for conditions that existed in the Truman years.

Gerson and Wehner claim Bill Clinton managed to turn the post 1960s Democratic Party into one that appealed to average Americans, while retaining its liberal core.

Clinton, proclaiming himself a “New Democrat,” called in 1991 for a “New Covenant” between the American people and the government: a “solemn agreement…to provide opportunity for everybody, inspire responsibility throughout our society, and restore a sense of community to our great nation.”

Importantly, Clinton anchored this message in concrete issues: promoting national service; making our streets and neighborhoods safer; strengthening the traditional family and creating a more family-friendly workplace; promoting educational accountability and advocating public-school choice; and, especially, “ending welfare as we know it.”