Redeeming the Republican Image

Fresh from the mismanaged disaster that was the 2013 Government Shutdown, Speaker John A. Boehner, leader of the Republican House majority, faces a dismal situation. Boehner’s approval rating has hit a record low of 17 percent, and the American public largely blames the Republican Party for the shutdown, according to a survey conducted by the National Broadcasting Company and the Wall Street Journal.

If the GOP wants to regain its standing, it must begin to work on passing legislation with Democrats. An opportunity arose this Thursday when, in a show of bipartisanship that has become exceedingly rare in the political sphere, ten Republican senators voted alongside 54 of their Democratic and Independent colleagues to usher in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The Democrat-introduced bill, which bans discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, now must pass the GOP-dominated House of Representatives in order to become a law. Unfortunately, given the tremendous influence the Tea Party is currently exerting in the House, the likelihood of bipartisanship seems small.

In the aftermath of the 2012 election, it has become clear that the Republican Party is suffering from a serious image problem. Throughout the previous election season, the GOP did not go to great lengths to challenge its Tea Party-induced reputation as a radically conservative faction. Mitt Romney’s failure to win over essential voting blocs such as Latinos, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, students, women and LGBTQ individuals, a failing which ultimately lost him the presidential race, was in many ways a result of the outdated image of his party. Romney’s defeat at the polls clearly indicated that in order to win elections, the Republican Party’s social convictions must change.

Boehner’s current opposition to the ENDA bill demonstrates that the party’s leadership has elected to ignore the clear public message. In recent weeks, Boehner has argued that the passage of ENDA would result in “frivolous lawsuits” that would hamper businesses’ ability to operate. His entire argument is a fallacy: no such legislation exists in half the states in our country, and it should not be considered frivolous to sue your boss if they fire you on the sole basis of your sexual orientation or gender identity. Furthermore, numerous Fortune 500 companies, as well as the United States Chamber of Commerce the Small Business Association of America, believe that diversity policies like ENDA will prove beneficial for businesses, according to a report by the Williams Institute.

Reaching an agreement with Democrats over ENDA would send the message that there remains a place for moderate Republicans within the GOP, while voting against the act will reinforce the idea that Republicans are still mired in 11th century theological edicts when it comes to social issues. By refusing to abandon their radically conservative measures and stances, Boehner and his cohorts are repelling the very people the Republican Party needs to win over in order to win the next election.

At a time when the GOP’s approval rating is abysmally low, Boehner needs to show the American public that he, not Ted Cruz, remains the leader of the GOP in Congress. The ENDA bill could provide an opportunity for Boehner to accept the passing of non-discrimination legislation in return for any number of reasonable compromises. In all likelihood, however, there will be no compromise or discussion. I predict that Boehner and his Tea Party cohorts will strike down ENDA as soon as it reaches the House, and those few sensible moderates left hiding amidst their fellow congressmen will toe the party line and stay silent.

Moderation, sensibility and compromise are what the Republican Party needs—not more hard line, Alamo stances. But if recent events are anything to go on, the GOP is becoming more extreme, not less. While buckling down on core fiscal and social policies might bolster their base of radical constituents, it also isolates and repels the new voters that the Republican Party desperately need to win. So long as the GOP appears to be bowing to the demands of the fanatic far right, they will be scaring away new voters rather than attracting them, something that the GOP simply cannot afford to do.