The pundit class is probably exaggerating the damage done to Republicans by the 1998 elections, just as it exaggerated the gains of 1994. Still, it's an excellent time to offer free advice to the GOP. The party should do this:
Open the party wide to Latinos. Immigrants from Latin America are the most socially conservative and family-oriented people in America -- a natural Republican constituency. A Hispanic-American ad agency refused to translate Burger King's "Sometimes you gotta break the rules" campaign into Spanish, on the grounds that Hispanic cultures don't celebrate rule-breaking.
Poll after poll shows that Latino opinion closely follows mainstream values, from patriotism, the importance of immigrants learning English quickly, and the need for strong immigration and border control. Latinos resent being singled out as a problem, as some English-only and anti-immigration Republicans do. George W. Bush talked differently and won 49 percent of the Latino vote in Texas. Jeb Bush won 58 percent in Florida.
Reassess the party's historical contempt for environmental issues. These issues count heavily with suburbanites and the young, and the stripping away of environmental safeguards after the alleged revolution of 1994 appears to have caused a lot of damage. Besides, conservatives are supposed to conserve, aren't they?
Oppose protected classes and identity politics. Arab-Americans and the transgendered (women who used to be men) are now protected classes in San Francisco. Armenian-Americans are a protected class in Pasadena. Why not? If the plan is to put all Americans in little boxes, and protect each little box from every other little box, then everybody is eligible for special protection while denying they are seeking special rights.
There are signs that the culture of little boxes is breaking down, partly because of growing tolerance and the high rate of intermarriage. Republicans should take the high ground: Insist that we are one people, not a balkanized set of boxholders and protected classes. Identity politicians say to immigrants and minorities, "You are different. Here is your protective box." Republicans should say, "You are like us. Welcome to the mainstream."
Get over the guilt of being on the wrong side of the civil rights issue. George Bush's two major pieces of legislation, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, both had some awful provisions that Republicans should have caught. But fear of appearing mean usually stampedes the party into supporting flawed social legislation.
Much disability law and litigation is out of control. Here in New York, most renovations of a bathroom or a kitchen must make the facilities wheelchair-accessible, even if it's a private dwelling with no known wheelchair users anywhere in the family or neighborhood. (The idea is that a wheelchair user might buy the place someday, so owners must spend a small fortune to prepare now. Good news: Owners are not required to remove their high shelves, even though a short person might buy the place in 2025.) Micromanaging people's lives in their own home is supposed to be something Republicans oppose, isn't it?
Stop running away from majority opinion. When race and gender preferences hide under the warm and vague term "affirmative action," they tend to do well in polls. When they are out in the open under their own name, clear majorities strike them down, as they did in California and Washington state. But Republicans didn't help at all in Washington and actually hurt the effort in California. Preferences represent the flawed racial politics of the past. They are fading because Americans want openness and equal opportunity, not rigged results. If Republican politicians can't support this honorable majority sentiment, why are they in business at all?
Republicans should pay attention to majority opinions on abortion, too. Majorities, usually large ones, support a ban on partial-birth abortion, a one-day waiting period, parental notification, and a ban on using public funds to agitate for abortion here or overseas. Republicans should be unembarrassed about campaigning on these issues as a way of bringing abortion law and practice in line with the moral sentiments of most Americans.
The obvious corollary to this is that Republicans should be reluctant to legislate views that majorities do not accept. There should be room on Republican tickets for people who have moral objections to abortion but who are unwilling to impose those objections on others. The sheer political fact is that there will be no constitutional amendment banning abortion, and professional politicians must work within that reality. The fight against the abortion culture is a properly a campaign of moral persuasion now, not one of bringing opponents to heel through intimidation or the force of law. Again, take the high ground.