I'm a registered independent. And I have no particular expertise in election-post-mortem analysis. But here are a few observations.
1. Democrats have demography on their side. The relevancy of the good-old Reagan coalition has been reduced by immigration, economic shifts, and differential birth rates. At the same time, feelings about some of the social issues that bound that coalition together have shifted importantly over time.
2. Democrats have, perhaps quite shrewdly, appropriated what used to be Republican ideas, sometimes to the consternation of their longtime supporters. Education reform -- charter schools, accountability, and so forth -- has been a core element of the Obama agenda. Certain elements of the education establishment are not happy with this, but that's not going to drive them to vote Republican. And of course there is this thing about the health care plan that looks like something once proposed by a Republican governor. Again, the Obama administration had to break some eggs on the left to enact health reform, but barring another run by Ralph Nader those eggs had noplace else to go.
3. So how might one go about building a new Republican coalition? Take a lesson from observation #2: grab a Democratic issue that happens to be not-too-inconsistent with your principles, and run with it. How about environmentalism?
I'm not the first person to suggest that. Historically, the Republican record on environmentalism is stronger than you might think. Republican administrations witnessed both editions of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the creation of the EPA. You can trace the conservationist DNA back to Teddy Roosevelt. Environmental issues are a big deal among younger and more educated voters.
How do you make an environmental agenda consistent with Republican principles? Think of it this way. We currently raise most of our tax revenue by taxing something that everybody agrees is good: employment. A carbon emissions levy would tax something that most serious people agree is bad. And even if you are a global warming denier, would you say that carbon emissions are BETTER than employment? Republicans embrace individual responsibility. Environmentalism is all about encouraging people to be responsible for the impact they have on natural resources, which must be passed along to future generations.
Environmentalism doesn't have to mean subsidizing the Solyndras of the world, or bumping up regulations on auto manufacturers. These are heavy-handed ways of pursuing the agenda; as with most issues there are more market-based approaches that promise greater progress at lesser cost.
Now in order to accomplish the green shift some member of the existing Republican coalition needs to be thrown under the bus, kind of like what the Democrats have done with, say, teachers' unions. So clearly with a green agenda the resource extraction and utility lobbies will be left out in the cold. Bear in mind, though, that these industries together employ less than 1% of the American workforce, and that proportion is projected to decline in the future. That's less than half the proportion of teachers in the workforce.
Would the green shift cost the GOP some of its solid states? Romney won Alaska by 13 points, Texas by 16, North Dakota by 20, and West Virginia by 26. Not a squeaker in the bunch. One
The usual disclaimer applies: this is free advice, and it's worth every penny. One would have to find a candidate who can credibly espouse these views. And one would have to shepherd that candidate through the primaries. But if you believe points 1 and 2, then you've either got to espouse some idea or accept a Republican decline at the national level.