Will The Republican Party Change By 2016?


RepublicansThe 2012 election could have been about immigration reform, or putting a budget in place, or world peace. But, as we know, it wasn’t. Instead, the agenda was largely for each candidate to attack the accomplishments and highlight the failures of each opponent. The Republicans and the Democrats both fighting for the most powerful elected position in the world, and each only able to tell us that voting for their opponent would lead to disaster. The American electorate clearly heard this message, and voter participation in 2012  dropped by 5,000,000 since the 2008 election. The 2012 election marks the 4th Republican loss in the last six elections. What can the Republican’s do to put out an agenda that will turn around their losing streak?

What do Republicans believe in? The Republican party is America’s conservative party. Conservatives, by definition, are resistant to change. Conservative parties, around the world, are organizations that: look back on former glories, believes the past was better and safer than the present, knows that changes in demographics and moral values have made the world unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and fight to build a more predictable world… for us and for our children.

Democrats, on the other hand, represent the liberal view-point. Liberals are less tied to the past, and often seek to improve the world by overturning outdated values from the past. By definition, liberals are more open to change, and are willing to accept that there could be a multiplicity of legitimate solutions for a problem.

By contrast, conservatives demand more concessions than they will give, making them reluctant to make deals that are “change makers.” If you go to TED Talks, a collection of short presentations by some of the most intelligent people on earth, you can watch a presentation by Jonathan Haidt about the moral roots of conservative and liberal thinking. Haidt’s studies show that there are five universal values (not doing harm, being fair, group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity) that determine our moral programming. Hadit’s data also shows that conservatives require agreement across  all five values, while liberals are inclined to make a deal with agreement on as few as three values. Liberals are more likely to make a deal. Conservatives are not only less likely to make a deal, but also more likely to look despairingly on  fellow conservatives who compromise their values for the sake of making a deal.

The problem facing Republicans is that their current view of world formed,and then soon froze into place, during the “Golden Age of Conservatives”, the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. But in the decades since the 80s America has drastically changed: demographics have changed, women have become the dominant voting bloc, the cold war ended a generation ago, and even the weather has changed. Republicans are torn between staying “on topic” with an increasingly irrelevant agenda and developing a new agenda that is relevant to most Americans, but not to all Republicans. If the Republican party is to remain a national party, they need to change their position and their message!

As a political scientist, I understand that a change in message means a change in identity. There is a risk that the most conservative elements of their party may reject change. But as a project manager, I know that a group that cannot prioritize their needs, cannot hope to achieve their agenda. Corporate project managers face the same issues when managing major change projects. Senior corporate managers are usually older and more conservative, and they are the ones who… more than anyone else… are responsible for protecting the firm from risk. Learning how corporations and project managers deal with change, just might tell us how to save the Republican party!

In the past, senior managers in major corporations made emotional decisions that would never be allowed in today’s transparent, stockholder driven culture. In the mid-80s, J.C. Penney’s CEO decided to move the corporate headquarters from New York City to Plano Texas. The entire executive team, hundreds of executives, resigned. With a population of 100,000, Plano’s labor market could not easily replace these executives, and Penney’s stock lost 50% of its value. Why would the CEO pursue this risk strategy? The depressed Plano real estate market was depressed and cheap, and there were tax incentives, but that was available everywhere (including NYC). The key factor on Plano’s favor appears to be that the CEO was born just over the border in Oklahoma.

Despite the negative results and the lack of analysis to support his decision, the CEO kept his job. In the 80s, CEO preferences … rather than research… was good enough for key decisions. Today, major corporate (and government) decisions require data and analysis. Let’s look at some key issues for the Republican Party, why these are the key issues and how they need to change:

GUN VIOLENCE: Republicans often say the 2nd Amendment provides unconditional support for guns, which is not true.  The 2nd amendment… “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms”… ties gun ownership to the security of the state, not just the individual. This was further clarified in the Militia Acts of 1792, stating the responsibility of adult males to carry a gun and be called up by the state in time of national emergency. The Militia act of 1862 allowed African-Americans to serve in Militias, and the Militia act of 1903 replaced all militias with the National Guard. Yet, the most vocal supporters of gun rights do not appear to realize that these events occurred.

Of course, in Revolutionary America, there were other reasons than traditional national defense for keeping Americans armed. Americans lived in a wilderness filled with dangerous animals; firearms provided defense and fresh meat for our families. The  westward expansion started scores of Indian wars as American’s took over more and more land, until the wars ended at Wounded Knee in 1890. Adult white males needed public duels to settle personal disputes, until the last states outlawed dueling in the late 1800s. And, of course, men had a moral obligation to protect family and neighbors in a slave uprising.

While the reasons for the 2nd Amendment have all but disappeared, Republican’s believe that we cannot update the definition of gun rights. Yet, American did this in 1934, when high-capacity, fast-firing military weapons entered the American culture. Today we speak about assault weapons and high-capacity clips, in the 30’s it was machine guns (such as the infamous “Tommy Gun” from the Chicago mob wars), high-capacity drum magazines, and silencers. The National Firearms Control Act of 1934 required the registration and taxing of any sales of restricted weapons and paraphernalia. The Firearms act imposed a $200 fee for any of these purchases. If the Firearms Act had indexed the fee to inflation, it would be $3,500 today. However, since the 70s a combination of legislative changes and “tweaks” to gun design have allowed the unrestricted sale of weapons that are more powerful and accurate than the Tommy Gun.

For most Americans, supporting the right to buy a 21st century assault weapon because an 18th century land-owning white male living in the countryside needed a gun, is quite a stretch of logic. Until recently, only 1% or 2% of the population would support this argument, and if you threw in controls on hunting rifles, you might get up to 5%. The more that we allow the free sale of thee weapons, the more frequently we see incidents of public massacre, which is exactly what the specifications of these weapons claim to deliver. When weapons were less deadly, and the need for guns more obvious, there was little will to ban them. Guns owners may still have the political unity to fight off gun restrictions, in 2013. But as new massacres continue to fill the news, the Republican part needs to decide if it wants to be the party of unrestricted gun rights. It can, and some of the membership may even believe it should. Just as corporations must decide which new markets and technologies to adopt, the Republican party needs to decide if investing in this policy leaves it with political capital for any other changes.

SCIENCE: In the early and mid-20th century, a master of oration could talk a bill through Congress. Today, everyone wants facts. We want to see the numbers. We want the credentials of the number crunchers. And we want to know… the science. The 21st century is a very precise world. When someone is arrested, we expect videos and DNA evidence. When a storm is on the way, we what to know when it will arrive, and how long it will last. Technology provides the precision that American farmers need to maximize crop production, and that each of us depends on every day.  It correctly predicted that Hurricane Sandy would be the most destructive storm in East Coast history. However, when that same science predicts that record-breaking storms will continue, Republicans attacked the science and the scientists making these predictions.

For the last 30 years, Republicans have supported policy positions that lack empirical evidence. Agricultural, industrial and economic policy in the early 20th century had to be based on opinion, because the science did not exist. We now understand how weather works, the scientific universally accepts the new weather model, and we can use that model to make accurate long-term weather predictions. Senior corporate managers can no longer simply follow their personal preferences. Likewise, Republicans must decide between fact-based  policies that may appeal to a larger audience, and policies that are followed because of tradition or custom. As America become ever more diverse, fewer policies can be based on just shared history and culture.

Still, every policy cannot be supported by numbers. In banking, the pursuit of short-term profitability conflicts with following the best interests of clients. Yet, firms that pursued “profit-first” and ignored customer interests are paying a high price. Banks that supported the “moral” view of customer service may be the big winners, as banks that. Accepting science does not mean rejecting personal values, but when the science shows us how the universe works, we need to accept this and develop new policies, rather than attacking the science. If the Republican party cannot do this, then, just like a corporate executive who cannot explain why he is supporting an unprofitable division, the Republicans are going to lose the support of their “shareholders.”

FAMILY VALUES: This is the area where the Republican self-proclaimed role as the party of morality, can be given free rein. The problem is that the party’s positions are not only different from mainstream America, they are different from the Republican membership. Gay rights issues have become the lightning rod for cultural change in America. In the last century, most Republicans thought that being gay was bad. Accepting that your child was gay was bad. And gay marriage was unacceptable. But it’s been a decade since Richard Cheney, the very Republican 46th Vice-President of the United States, told the world that his daughter was gay. He publicly stated that he saw no issue with this daughter being gay, he accepted his daughter Mary and her partner were full members of his family, said that he Mary’s child was like any of his other grandchild, and loved Mary just like any other child. Oh… and gay marriage was unacceptable. Richard Cheney IS the typical older Republican, who speaks public Republican policy while following the real-world values that their families actually lived. The difficult to understand, and support, chasm between personal and public values has become the Republicans dilemma.

Talking one way and living another is not unique to Republicans. The Democrats struggle with their own dichotomy between values that they support, such as unionization… especially the various teachers unions… and the values of mainstream America, which is decidedly anti-union. Corporations are struggling with issues of cultural diversity in the workplace, Women as CEOs and as the majority of the new workforce, and global integration of operations. The big lesson is not how we will solve any single issue, it is that we need to continually deal with change. They process of accepting change, and integrating it into corporate and governmental culture is an ongoing process, not a single issue or project. Change management is needed to continuously incorporate new culture, technology,  ideas and practices. To be conservative means holding on to the past, but the present is becoming the past faster than ever before. Republicans are used to establishing policies that are meant to stand for generations, but most of today’s policies are out of date in just a few years.  Change management is the greatest challenge for the Republican party.

Will the Republican party survive the 21st century? If they want to they can, but they cannot survive the 21st century as the Republican part of the 20th century. Corporations have faced similar challenges in transitioning to the 21st century. That transition has included building Project Management Offices, Change Management groups and Process Improvement organizations.   Projects and changes are no longer “occasional events,” they are vital ongoing activities of every organization. The leading corporations around the world have sizable and effective organizations to incorporate change, and the speed of change… in virtually every endeavor… is increasing. The Republican party needs to do more than just change their policy positions; they need to change their process for change. The models are out there, in the most respected and profitable corporation in the world. If they want to change the Republicans can, but what kind of party do they want to be? Time, and the 2016 election will tell!

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One Response to Will The Republican Party Change By 2016?

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