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EDITORIAL

GOP must settle ideological divide

Friday, July 26, 2013 - 12:01 am

And find the voice that independents will hear.

The Associated Press has created a lengthy analysis of state Republican parties “mired in dysfunction,” because they’re “plagued by infighting and deep ideological divisions.” All this disharmony raises questions, AP says, about the GOP’s “ability to coordinate political activities in key battleground states ahead of next year’s midterm congressional elections.”

Noticeably absent from the list of states with a dysfunctional GOP is Indiana. Wisconsin, Florida and New Jersey aren’t there, either. As it happens, the Republican governors of those states are at the Aspen Institute in Colorado this week for a discussion about “the important social issues facing their communities” and “what’s working in their states.”

Republican governors from a lot of other states could have been in Aspen, too. “Dysfunction” doesn’t seem to include being kept from office. The GOP controls 30 of the nation’s 50 governorships and a majority of state legislatures. As of 2010, Republicans have 53 percent of the 3,890 legislative seats in the U.S., and Democrats have 47. Republicans control both chambers in 25 states, and Democrats control both in only 16. Eight states have split or inconclusive control. (Nebraska’s legislators are chosen in nonpartisan elections.)

And the GOP doesn’t fare badly in public opinion polls, either. Most Americans have a more favorable view of state government than they do of the federal government, and state governments controlled by Republicans are slightly more popular than ones controlled by Democrats.

Republicans aren’t even doing too shabbily at the national level. They won control of the U.S. House in 2010, and they have a decent shot at taking the Senate next year as well. The single area in which they are still stumbling is in presidential politics.

That’s where the AP’s “deep ideological divisions” come into play. Democrats are solidly united behind a progressive agenda of big government and high spending. Republicans are having trouble reconciling their conservative and libertarian factions, not sure whether to push more strongly on an economic platform or a social-issues message.

By 2011, Gallup polling suggested, the percentage of American voters self-identifying as Republican had fallen to 27 percent, and 31 percent called themselves Democrats. The number self-identifying as independent had risen to 40 percent, the highest number in 60 years. Whichever party wins that group’s votes will send the next president to the White House.

If Republicans are serious about the presidency, they have two missions. They must find the voice the independents will listen to and a tone they will appreciate. And they must make the Democrats own the progressive agenda that has piled up the unsustainable debt about to topple our fiscal house of cards.