The Republican Party has, at this moment, a historic golden opportunity. It has the chance to do for America what Lisa Murkowski did for Alaska two years ago: Cast its extreme right-wing members into a third party, and carve out a new centrist coalition to lead the next generation.
Back in 2010, the Tea Party movement seemed to be the next dominant force in American politics, so much so that moderate Republicans in Congress were facing widespread challenges from the right as Tea Party candidates, like Joe Miller in Alaska, fought to wrest control from the establishment and into the hands of the far-right. In most cases, the strategy failed, and the Tea Party has been losing momentum ever since. In states like Delaware, Colorado, and of course, Alaska, voters rejected Tea Party extremists and voted either for the Democratic alternative, or for a write-in candidate who advocated moderation on social issues but an uncompromising fidelity to economic conservatism.
This is the Republican Party of the future.
It has, by now, been said ad nauseum that this presidential election was a reflection of a new America in which young, ethnically diverse, and increasingly female voters turn out in droves to decide the fate of the country. And that this election decisively proved that a party of "old white men" could survive no more. The soul-searching within the party has begun: should they move harder to the right, to energize the base, or move towards the center to appeal to a broader base? The answer must indubitably be the latter.
As the 2010 Senate election in Alaska showed, even in an extremely right-leaning state, voters are reluctant to select candidates that espouse a social agenda that many Americans, especially those under the age of 40, find abhorrent. That slice of the population is of course will become a larger share of the electorate in the coming years. The younger generation, while somewhat evenly split on economic philosophy, is almost universally opposed to restrictions on gay marriage, legal abortion, and other forms of religious moralizing that have come to define the modern Republican party. The key to winning younger voters is to abandon these issues, and the "conservative social agenda," entirely. Take them off the table.
The GOP has a chance to make the Tea Party a third-party, a coterie of severe extremism that may continue to pull in 10-15 percent of the vote, but no more and perhaps increasingly less as the electorate is dominated by a generation that feels tolerance, not bigotry, is the American way. Yet they can win on economic ideas alone - as Lisa Murkowski did in Alaska, Republicans nationwide can carve out a new coalition of moderate Democrats and Republicans who are economically conservative but can't stomach a vote for a candidate who doesn't believe people have the right to marry whomever they love. It's time to move on.
By tacking towards the center, the Republican Party could successfully adopt the winning moderate strategy of Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 -forcing the opposition to distinguish itself by becoming more extreme. Republicans can make a strong case for center-right action on the environment and foreign policy that will force Democrats leftward, attract economic moderates, and make the loss of the Tea Party irrelevant.
I have a very simple message to the leadership of the Republican Party, in Alaska and everywhere: drop the social agenda. Re-invite the younger generation of American voters to the party. Stop producing incoherent, insensitive and offensive philosophical musings on rape and abortion, and leave that to the Tea Party, which will soon become nothing but a fringe group of out-of-the-mainstream Christian fundamentalists and black helicopter libertarians.
Take back the economic high-ground by producing policies that support development, states' rights, and law-and-order. Make a case for Republican foreign policy. Stop alienating young people and women with out-of-touch moral preaching. Become the Lisa Murkowski party.
America has been looking for a third party for a long time. Perhaps the Republican Party is just what we're looking for.
Moira Sullivan is a lifelong Alaskan and former state legislative aide. She currently lives in Dublin, Ireland, where she is working for a masters degree in finance at Trinity College.