"Two decades later, it's time for the GOP to finally...

"Two decades later, it's time for the GOP to finally implement the big-tent approach," writes Michael Dawidziak. Credit: Nancy Ohanian

There's an old saying in politics that losers learn more from an election than winners. It remains to be seen whether this will be true of the Republican Party.

So far the evidence is decidedly contradictory. In 1989, Republican National Committee chairman Lee Atwater put forward the "big tent" theory, which advocated that the GOP find ways to welcome more women, minorities and young people. By 1992, Atwater had died, and Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich staged a coup that drove the Republicans further to the extreme right. At the same time, Bill Clinton was moving his party to the center.

Two decades later, it's time for the GOP to finally implement the big-tent approach.

If the party doesn't want to keep losing the female vote, it is going to have to update its stands on women's issues to the 21st century -- or at least the late 20th century. While the Grand Old Party has done well among older women, time is not on their side: Younger and middle-age women who are now voting predominantly Democratic will soon be the older women. There's no reason to believe they'll switch party allegiance without good reason. Gov. Mitt Romney refused to even state whether he would have signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act had he been president in 2009. If equal pay for equal work isn't a given, this party has a long way to go to.

Now, after the election, the first major offensive Republican Party leaders have launched is against UN Ambassador Susan Rice. No matter how they feel on the merits, the attack has taken a personally nasty turn. Sen. John McCain characterized Rice's comments in the days after the consul attack in Benghazi, Libya, as "not being very bright." You can agree or disagree with Rice's remarks, but such a characterization of an African-American woman who was a Rhodes Scholar and a member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society is exactly how not to court the women's vote.

Meanwhile, if the Republican Party doesn't start advocating for a sane immigration policy, it's unlikely it will win the battle for Hispanic voters -- a group largely seen as the biggest and fastest growing minority voting bloc that's still up for grabs in national campaigns.

Lastly, the Republican Party needs to stick to issues where, traditionally, it has generated broad-base support -- such as the economy and foreign affairs. In poll after poll, the American people have stated that they've had it with partisan gridlock. They want to see cooperation on the very large problems facing the country.

In the wake of superstorm Sandy, President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie struck the right note. And now, as House Speaker John Boehner leads a more moderate Republican majority, he's showing encouraging signs that he is returning to his roots as a consensus builder. It's a needed move as Congress figures out how to prevent us from falling over the fiscal cliff.

The national party can also learn a lesson from Long Island Republicans. Competing for a diverse political electorate, the local parties are far more moderate and reasonable than their national counterparts. And the results showed. While the competitive federal races went to Democrats, voters tended to vote Republican in local races. Assemb. Phil Boyle's victory in an open seat keeps the Long Island Senate delegation solidly Republican. Two open seats in the Assembly were won by Republicans, while Ed Romaine's victory in Brookhaven returns that town to solid Republican control. And Michael Venditto's win in the Nassau Legislature keeps the Republican majority in Mineola. These candidates can be described as fiscal conservatives and social moderates -- not social warriors.

It might be 20 years since Atwater's "big tent," but it's better late than never.

Michael Dawidziak is a political consultant and pollster.

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