There appears to be a creeping reality that is just beginning to dawn on the Republican party -- the social policies that have become major headlines are driving away an important percentage of the vote that will be essential not just to beat President Barack Obama, but to keep the party relevant at all.
While it appears to be a foregone conclusion that Mitt Romney will take the GOP nomination for the presidential race (it seems Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich appear unable to take a hint), a race that featured anti-abortion, anti-contraception, pro-electrified fence, and even pro-moon base initiatives has taken its toll.
That toll? Obama currently has a firm lead with female and hispanic voters.
And a sizable head start in key swing state polls.
But don’t blame Romney. Mitt’s views on abortion have evolved. And if you don’t believe in evolution... let’s just say that he’s a changed man. With a record like his, there’s no chance he wanted to get dragged down in a discussion about reproductive rights, but with the economy recovering, it seemed inevitable.
On immigration, Romney has classically occupied somewhere between a classic conservative stance and one in which we should build a 2,600 mile-fence along the entire border with Mexico.
But don’t blame Romney. Like a good career politician, he has been more litmus test than leader.
Romney’s shift shows just how the GOP has succeeded in creating a platform that openly antagonizes more than 50 percent of the population of the United States. The rise of the Tea Party that helped energize the conservative base and propel the party to take back the House of Representatives on a populist message of economic responsibility seems like a distant memory.
At first, that message seemed to resonate with both parties. The US budget and deficit became important topics that forced politicians to come up with new plans and find middle ground to pass impactful legislation.
At least that’s what could have happened if GOP leadership did not kowtow to the hard line demands of the extreme right. The term RINO -- Republican In Name Only -- became popular not long ago to describe Republicans that conservative voters felt were not far enough right.
That attitude has pervaded the party and its decisions to push ever further away from the center. And with Fox News continually egging on politicians and pundits to take ever extreme positions, there was airtime and money for those that were willing to take the plunge.
Both Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor played the part of Republican strong men and tried to play hardball during budget negotiations with Obama, refusing to budge on tax increases when presented with major compromises.
As fiscal issues led, social issues followed.
Which brings us back to Mitt’s dilemma. He’s now tasked with pulling a u-turn of his entire campaign to attract voters that have been on the receiving end of a nearly year-long barrage of conservative rhetoric. It’s doable, but he’s going to be fighting both the Democrats -- and his own party -- the whole way.
And he has to. Not just for his own sake, but for the future of conservatism. Regardless of what Santorum would have you believe, the re-election of Obama would not be the end of the world for the US, nor would it be for the Republican party.
But how Romney handles his campaign for the next eight months will mark an important time for the Republicans. If we are to believe current poll numbers, the Christian Evangelical social strategy is not going to be tenable in a grander scale due to the demographics of the US. If he can coax the party back toward the center and away from electrified fences and forced transvaginal ultrasounds, perhaps he can bring the GOP back to fighting form.
If not, he will lose to Obama, and Republicans will be forced to spend the next four years figuring out how to please their base and maintain their electability.