2014 is another election year, with both Democrats and Republicans hoping to exploit the others' policy weaknesses to make gains in the congressional midterms. Democrats are being pilloried for the disaster that's been the healthcare website roll out so far, as well as for President Obama's numerous second term missteps and scandals. Republicans, in the meantime, are pilloried for appearing to be obstructionists who are "out of touch" with the American populace.
But image isn't the Republicans' only problem, or the biggest one. The Republican party is already embroiled in what much of the left relishes as a "civil war"; at stake is the ideological direction the party will take. The division is largely drawn as establishment (read: big government) conservatives vs. grassroots, libertarian, or movement conservatives. But perhaps more importantly it's a fight between the past and the future. In that spirit, here are five issues Republicans ought to embrace to remain (or become, as the case may be) relevant.
Next: Family values
1. Gay marriage
This one is kind of a no-brainer, and some Republicans (not to mention plenty of previously anti-gay marriage Democrats, like Hillary Clinton) are wising up. Far be it from me to question the sincerity of any of the politicians who "evolved" on gay marriage in the last year, but there were an awful lot of them in a short period of time. The president's own evolution came in 2012, just months before the presidential election. Not only did Obama adopt a stance on gay marriage (states' rights) that would be considered a Republican one applied to many other issues, but he adopted the same one the sitting Republican Vice President, Dick Cheney, did nearly a decade earlier, when gay marriage was much less popular with the electorate than it is today. The Republican Party establishment's desire to appeal to authoritarian-minded social conservatives (as if they would vote for Democrats otherwise?) instead of maintaining consistency on states' rights and federalism represents a lost opportunity for the party to have appeared forward-thinking and principled. Nevertheless, potential 2016 candidates like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio have both articulated this kind of federalism-oriented approach to the issue of gay marriage.
Next: Republicans might open the doors
Immigration is the other hot-button issue that came up in the Republicans' last electoral post-mortem. A Gallup poll earlier this year showed 72 percent of Americans supporting some type of path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a result reflected in other surveys. While the Gallup poll also shows majority support for more onerous immigration regulations (like mandates on employers to verify legal status; 85 percent approve), the broad support for a path to citizenship is the exact opposite of the tack most Republican candidates for president took in late 2011 and in 2012. The debate within the Republican party was largely on how large a border wall should be, how many devices could be deployed there and how much money ought to be spent (answer: more). Early in his short-lived campaign, Texas Governor Rick Perry actually had to apologize for calling candidates who opposed offering in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants living in-state "heartless." A little more than a year later, President Obama won the election despite losing on the marquee issue, the economy.
When most Americans support some kind of way for illegal immigrants to be able to stay in this country, a nativist party obsessed over how many illegal immigrants could be deported isn't going to do well. Establishment Republicans are slowly coming on board, with the congressional Republican tasked with the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee promising action before the 2014 election. Whether they'll merely accede to the Democrat proposal or seek to excise government intervention from immigration reform remains to be seen, though only by rejecting statist immigration policy can Republicans come to "own" the issue.
Next: They say libertarians are just Republicans who like to smoke pot3. Marijuana legalization
Barack Obama has been one of the most aggressive drug warriors to inhabit the White House since Richard Nixon launched the violent and expensive war on drugs more than 40 years ago. Like gay marriage, the public opinion is shifting on marijuana as well, a trend that has lasted a few decades and has seen support for legalized marijuana cross the 50 percent mark and reach as high as 58 percent in one recent poll. Here, too, Republican principles, applied consistently, could keep the GOP relevant to younger voters. The Obama administration has targeted medical marijuana dispensaries for raids and prosecutions in states that have laws permitting them. That ought to be a clear states' rights issue. The Department of Justice respected states' autonomy more closely in dealing with Colorado and Washington legalizing marijuana by declining to condemn it earlier this year.
More so, as A. Barton Hinkle argued, Republicans should embrace legalized marijuana as a roll back of the nanny state, framed in the context of the UN's opposition to Colorado and Washington's legalization as well as efforts nationwide to regulate legal substances like soda. A Republican embrace of legalized marijuana, then, would also resolve the cognitive dissonance in American politics under which, in broad terms, one party embraces controlling controlled substances but opposes controlling uncontrolled substances, while the other wants to control uncontrolled substances while loosening control on controlled substance.
Next: Could Republicans stick it to the man?
4. Copyright reform
Shortly after the 2012 election, a memo on copyright floated by the conservative Republican Study Committee caused quite a ruckus. The RSC responded by withdrawing the memo and even firing the staffer who wrote it. That was a mistake. Copyright reform is an issue that has the potential to galvanize lots of young people, many of whom download content on the Internet and don't want to face onerous penalties for it. Just a couple months after the RSC briefly showed some courage and then walked it back, the programmer and copyright reform/open access activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide after being targeted aggressively by federal prosecutors for his alleged attempts to download a large amount of academic journal content to provide for free online. The case has galvanized support for an Aaron's Law that appears to break the mold of bad laws named after dead people. It would stop terms of service violations from automatically being crimes. His death is the latest chapter in the battle being waged by the federal government to control the Internet. Proposed anti-piracy laws in the last few years, meanwhile, were scuttled by a massive online response that swayed Republicans and Democrats. Republicans, who are much further from anti-copyright reform Hollywood than Democrats, ought to build on that momentum. They could help secure a free internet while securing a larger portion of the youth vote.