WASHINGTON (JTA) – Think immigration through — again. Forget about gay marriage. And for heaven’s sake, when it comes to rape, shut up!
The Republican Party as a whole is having the morning-afters, reconsidering how it might have done better in an election that saw the party fail to win the White House and suffer modest losses in Congress, and Jewish Republicans and conservatives are coming forward with their own insights.
“There will be a lot of very frank conversations between our organization and its leadership and the leadership within the party,” Matt Brooks, the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said last week in a conference call that otherwise addressed gains that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney appeared to have made among Jewish voters.
A number of Romney’s financial backers — including Fred Zeidman of Texas, Mel Sembler of Florida and Sheldon Adelson — are among the RJC’s leadership, and Brooks made clear that their voices would be heard.
“A lot of the major financial support the candidates received was from the members of this organization,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of weight behind their message on that.”
William Daroff, the Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America and a former deputy to Brooks at the RJC, said Republican Jews would likely advise the party to moderate.
“The conventional wisdom is that the election will result in the shift of the Republican Party to the center, particularly on issues of immigration,” Daroff said. “To the extent that the party does shift, it would make Republican candidates more appealing to Jewish voters who may be inclined to vote Republican on foreign policy and homeland security issues but who have been turned off by conservative Republicans rigidity on social issues.
Some of the leading voices counseling moderation of hard-line Republican policies have been Jewish conservatives. One of the first post-election posts from Jennifer Rubin, who writes the Right Turn blog for the Washington Post, said it was time to stop opposing gay marriage in the political arena.
“Republicans for national office would do well to recognize reality,” Rubin said. “The American people have changed their minds on the issue and fighting this one is political flat-earthism. As with divorce, one need not favor it, but to run against it is folly, especially for national politicians who need to appeal to a diverse electorate.”
Charles Krauthammer, the syndicated columnist, noted sharp Democratic gains among Hispanic voters and counseled a change in immigration policy, making clear that the current GOP emphasis on securing the borders should be followed by amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the country.
Romney had advocated disincentives, including making it more difficult for illegal immigrants to get jobs and educations, that would push them to leave, or “self deport.”
“Many Hispanics fear that there will be nothing beyond enforcement. So, promise amnesty right up front,” Krauthammer wrote in his Nov. 9 column. “Secure the border with guaranteed legalization to follow on the day the four border-state governors affirm that illegal immigration has slowed to a trickle.”
Zeidman, the fundraiser, said Jewish Republicans had a special role in making the case for immigration reform.
“The rest of the party has to understand what we as Jews have always understood — that this is a nation of immigrants and to ignore them is to end up losing,” he said.
A number of conservatives have lashed back against calls for policy changes, saying that the party was missing the ideas revolution underpinning the 2010 Tea Party insurgency that propelled Republicans to the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“There’s no point in two Democratic parties,” said Jeff Ballabon, a Republican activist from New York. “Any such victory would be pyrrhic.”
Singling out gay marriage or immigration was self-defeating, said Ballabon.
“All the postmortems focus on demographics — that’s playing the Democrats’ game, that’s a loss right there,” he said.
Recalling the drawing power of a figure like Ronald Reagan, Ballabon said positions on hot-button issues matter less than a party leader who can appeal across demographic lines.
“The only chance we have is there’s another bold visionary who can attract people not based on divide and conquer, but who can inspire people to core American ideals — liberty, freedom, personal responsibility,” Ballabon said.
Tevi Troy, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, said the problem was not with policies but with how they were presented.
“There are messaging challenges,” he said. ”I don’t think any of our candidates should talk about rape.”
GOP Senate candidates in Missouri and Indiana — states that otherwise went solidly for Romney — both lost their seats after making controversial marks about rape that were widely reported and derided. Their losses facilitated a net Democratic gain in the body from 53 to 55.
Troy said the Republican Party could learn from its Jewish supporters how to frame its vision of an America of opportunity in ways that would appeal to minorities and immigrants.
“You do have a place in America to succeed,” he said. “Jews are a paradigmatic example of a minority that came to the U.S. and did very well in the American system.”
Troy said also that the party should consider gradual and not radical changes in some areas. For instance, reversing “Obamacare,” the president’s health care reforms mandating universal coverage, was likely no longer an option.
“Repealing Obamacare is not viable right now,” said Troy, a deputy health secretary under President George W. Bush. “I still think the law needs significant reforms, and now is the time to talk about it.”
Noam Neusner, a domestic policy adviser and speechwriter for the George W. Bush administration, said that Jewish Republicans were not necessarily more moderate than other Republicans. Instead, he suggested, the party’s Jews represented a bridge to other communities that tended to perceive Romney as remote.
Neusner noted a secretly recorded fundraiser at which Romney referred to hard-core Obama voters as the 47 percent of the country who saw themselves as victims. The Obama campaign hammered Romney with the remarks, replaying the video in ads in swing states.
“The biggest problem with that 47 percent video is that he portrayed people who don’t have wealth as victims,” Neusner said of Romney. “Most Jewish Republicans come from families with no wealth and have seen in America a wonderful place to create wealth, and they want to preserve that for others, especially immigrants.”
Similarly, Neusner said, Jews were well placed to convey the freedoms offered by American religious liberties. He referred specifically to an Obama order this year mandating contraceptives coverage for women who work at religiously affiliated institutions such as hospitals and orphanages.
“Jewish Republicans need to stand with our Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Hindu friends that there’s a place in public life for religious institutions, and the government should not impose itself on those institutions,” he said.