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Douglas: Republican Revival

In 1854 a group of disgruntled Democrats joined with Whigs and Free Soilers to form a new political party. Their goal was to stop the expansion of slavery. They called themselves ‘Republicans.' Their second Presidential nominee, Abraham Lincoln, prevailed and the GOP dominated our national elections until the New Deal. Freed slaves flocked to the party of the Great Emancipator.

Fast forward a century-and-a-half: President Obama received 93% of the black vote. The party of Lincoln, who gave his life to save the Union and extend freedom to all, is now unattractive to the descendants of those whose rights and welfare were the very reason for its founding.

The fastest-growing minority in our nation, Hispanics, also overwhelmingly rejected the Republicans last year. A survey concludes that it wasn't due to the Republican presidential candidate's stance on immigration, as is widely believed; rather, respondents said that they trust the Democrats to fix the economy and improve education. Eight years earlier President Bush had received nearly half of Hispanic votes, but Governor Romney attracted barely a quarter. These are family-oriented, church-going folks who believe in entrepreneurship - and ought to have responded to a Republican message.

Surely swing voters last fall were unimpressed by the relentless quest for the President's birth certificate and the insensitive comments about rape by several Senate nominees. And it couldn't have helped that the GOP presidential standard-bearer appeared to dismiss 47% of the electorate as moochers. Clearly, to compete in future elections, something has to change. Part of the answer is greater success in fundraising, voter turnout and using social media, but it will take much more.

The Republican National Committee just released a study showing an obvious diagnosis, but there are two different visions of where the party should go. One is of ideological purity. The other is of broadening the party base, becoming the true big tent, accepting differences among those who call themselves Republicans and directing the collective energy to winning elections.

First of all, mutual respect is essential. Republicans have strongly held views on many controversial topics, such as gay marriage, abortion, physician-assisted suicide and gun control. But surely we can acknowledge all points of view on these issues and still work together to achieve our common goals.

Outreach is critical. I've had the privilege of participating in several naturalization ceremonies when new Americans took the oath of allegiance and assumed the obligations of citizenship. Immigrants are among the most patriotic people I've met and should be receptive to Republican ideas. Only a party that welcomes them will succeed; otherwise it will be swamped by changing demographics.

Relevance is key. Every American wants a decent job, a safe and pleasant place to live, a good education for his or her kids and financial security throughout one's working years and beyond. That's what Republicans should be discussing with the American people. The Democrats were discouraged after the Reagan years, but they came back. Today's path to success for the GOP is clear - the Party needs only to take it.

Jim Douglas, a former governor of Vermont, is an executive in residence at Middlebury College.
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