Republicans Need To Learn From Harper Conservatives And Canada

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Do <a href=Republicans need to learn some lessons from Stephen Harper and Canada's Conservative Party in the wake of Mitt Romney's defeat? (CP)" />
Do Republicans need to learn some lessons from Stephen Harper and Canada's Conservative Party in the wake of Mitt Romney's defeat? (CP)

Do Republicans need to learn some lessons from Stephen Harper and Canada's Conservative Party in the wake of Mitt Romney's defeat?

That seems to be the message from Canadian pundits this week attempting to explain how the Republicans continue to lose elections in a country far more Conservative than Canada, while Harper just keeps on winning.

So what is it exactly the GOP has to learn from Harper? The general message is the party must realize it can no longer win elections by appealing primarily to older white men. So how do Republicans broaden the base?

First off, jettison the Tea Party craziness on issues such as abortion, gay marriage and, most importantly, taxes and spending.

"[Harper] has kept the wilder social conservatives in his caucus on a short leash, minimizing fractious debates on such hot-button issues as the death penalty, gay rights and abortion," wrote the Toronto Star in their post-election editorial.

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Just take the recent debate on abortion in Parliament. While the large number of Conservative votes for MP Stephen Woodworth's motion to study when life begins garnered plenty of attention — much of it negative — Harper managed to steer the Tories away from epic blunders such as Todd Akin's suggestion that the bodies of victims of "legitimate rape" have "ways to try and shut that whole thing down."

Akin lost his senatorial battle in Missouri, and was far from the only militantly anti-abortion GOP candidate to go down in flames on election night.

Obama got far more votes from women than Romney, an 18-point gender gap that was a major factor in the outcome of the race. Fringe statements on abortion rights likely contributed to this critical gulf and Romney's debate night comments about "binders full of women" didn't help.

More important than social issues has been the Tories' pragmatic approach to dealing with the economy in the wake of the financial crisis. Romney's opposition to bailouts, particularly for the auto sector, likely played a key role in his defeat in the rust-belt swing states.

And the scores of Republicans, including Romney, who signed Grover Norquist's no-tax pledge have done no favours to the credibility of their party on the issue of balancing America's bloated budget.

Harper, meanwhile, "wisely swallowed his reflexive fiscal conservatism and reached into the piggy bank when Canada faced the 2008-09 economic crisis," according to the Star editorial.

But the Tories have really out-gunned the GOP when it comes to winning the votes of new and growing constituencies.

Like the Republicans, the Tories have traditionally relied on "white male voters in the conservative heartland – in Canada’s case, the Prairies, plus the rural parts of British Columbia and Ontario," according to The Globe and Mail's John Ibbitson.

But unlike the Republicans, the Tories have aggressively embraced immigration, and the values of immigrant constituencies. Lo and behold, in the last election the Tories picked up support in growing suburban communities with large immigrant populations.

Romney's opposition to the Dream Act — a bill to help young, undocumented immigrants — and his hard-line on issues of immigration probably played a major role in Obama capturing 75 per cent of the Latino vote.

When even Pat Buchanan, a man who once referred to his northern neighbour as "Soviet Canuckistan," is telling his party to look to Canada on how to expand the base, you know something has to give.

If the Republicans are willing to learn, it seems the Tories are willing to teach. On a recent trip to the U.K., Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who in Ibbitson's words "has made it his life’s work to win over immigrants to the Conservative cause," gave British Prime Minister David Cameron tips on capturing the ethnic vote.

The GOP would be wise to give Kenney a call.

Conservatism is, by its very nature, reluctant to change, but if Republicans fail to adapt to the 21st century, as Harper's Conservatives have, then the party of Lincoln faces a decidedly bleak future.

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