After Election Day Defeats, What's Next For GOP?

Melissa Block talks with Republican strategist Mark McKinnon about how the Republican Party moves forward, following its defeats on Tuesday. McKinnon has said that the GOP has a problem with its brand.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Here's just a smattering of headlines we spotted online since Tuesday's election: Republican Reckoning Begins After Revealing Defeat; Republicans Ponder Painful Way Forward; and this one, GOP Asks Why and Where Do We Go From Here?

Well, in light of the Republican Party's losses from Mitt Romney on down, those are questions we thought we'd put to a Republican strategist: Mark McKinnon, who was a campaign adviser to John McCain in the 2008 primaries. Before that, he served as chief media adviser for the George W. Bush campaigns in 2000 and 2004. Mark McKinnon, welcome to the program.

MARK MCKINNON: Hey. Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: You consider yourself, I understand, part of the Republican progressive caucus and...

MCKINNON: It's a lonely one...

(LAUGHTER)

MCKINNON: ...but yes.

BLOCK: And you did write after Mitt Romney's comments came out about the 47 percent, you wrote this: How can anyone support a candidate with this kind of a vision of the country? So I'm curious if you ended up supporting Mitt Romney. Did you vote for him?

MCKINNON: No, I didn't. In fact, I chose to cast a protest vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian.

BLOCK: No kidding?

MCKINNON: Yeah.

BLOCK: Do you think there's another Republican primary candidate from this past field who would have fared any better?

MCKINNON: Oh, yeah. I think somebody like Jon Huntsman would have won, and I think would have won perhaps by a decisive margin.

BLOCK: Well, that always is the question then, right? Because in the Republican primaries, they're appealing to the conservative base and then have to pivot to try to appeal to the general electorate in November.

MCKINNON: Yeah. And that's the problems with the Republican primary, and primaries in general have just been drifting further and further to the extreme so that we nominate people that are unelectable in the general elections. I mean, it was inexplicable to me that we have a Republican Party whose strategy was to try to increase the number of old white men. You know, that's a strategy based on a coalition of voters that's shrinking and dying.

BLOCK: Is that where you see the GOP right now, the party of old white people and, in particular, old white men?

MCKINNON: Well, yeah. I mean, that's the only place where we saw any voter share increase. In all other demographics, we saw the number go down among women, among Hispanics, among African-Americans, among key and growing demographic constituencies. And demographics is destiny in politics, and it's important that the Republican Party recognize that. I think they will. You know, there's nothing like being in the desert to figure out how to get water.

BLOCK: You know, I was thinking about the comments that President Obama made to the Des Moines Register editorial board, which ultimately were published. Originally, they were not. He said if he wins a second term, a big reason will be because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community. Do you think that's right?

MCKINNON: There's no question about it. When we ran in 2000, 2004, we knew that we had to get about 40 percent in 2000 and then 43 percent in 2004, which we did. But to be president today, you have to recognize that your message has to be for all Americans. It can't just be for one segment or another, and that's the problem that Mitt Romney and the Republicans had this time.

BLOCK: Is there a more fundamental problem, though, for the Republican Party that if you're trying to attract younger voters who went strongly for Barack Obama, that population is much more accepting of, say, same-sex marriage and a number of social issues on which the Republican Party is just out of step?

MCKINNON: No question about it. I mean, I think those are issues that 20 years from now we'll look back on and just can't believe that they were ever an issue. It's definitely headed that direction. And Republicans are behind the curve on important civil rights issues like gay marriage and other issues where younger voters are looking at the Republican Party and just say, man, that seems like a party out of the '50s. That doesn't reflect my views or where I'm headed. So on all the growing demographics - younger voters, Hispanics - the Republican Party is out of step and out of sync.

BLOCK: If the Republican Party wants to close the gender gap, what would it need to do?

MCKINNON: The Republican Party needs to, first of all, quit electing people in primaries that have prehistoric notions about women's issues. And we had people like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, who were expressing views that literally sound like they came out of the Stone Age. And, you know, the problem for Mitt Romney is that that becomes a perception about the entire Republican Party.

BLOCK: Mark McKinnon, how broadly shared do you think your prescription for what the Republican Party should do, how broadly is that shared within the...

MCKINNON: Well, like I've said, the progressive caucus is a lonely one. But I think more people share my view today than they did a week ago in the Republican Party. And that's what losing will do for you.

BLOCK: Well, look at ahead to 2016 if you can. I know we're just two days after the election. But do you see a Republican Party that has shifted gears, that has regrouped in some fundamental way and puts forth a candidate who is electable?

MCKINNON: I'm an optimist. I think that losing is good for parties because then I think that, as a survival instinct, they generally adapt and adapt in the right ways. And I think there are some exciting candidates out there in the Republican Party like Marco Rubio, like Chris Christie, and I think there are some characters around like Jeb Bush, who are saying the right things about where the party needs to go. So I'm optimistic.

BLOCK: OK. Republican strategist and optimist Mark McKinnon. He's currently a fellow at Harvard University's Institute of Politics. Mark McKinnon, thanks very much.

MCKINNON: Kick it hard, carry on regardless.

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