Ahead of November’s midterm elections, Republicans were confident. Conservative pollsters were predicting huge Republican wins. Inflation and crime — issues of Republican strength — were top of voters’ minds and Republican politicians made the rounds on Fox News, forecasting a red tsunami of epic proportions.
Election Day was an underperformance of historic proportions by Republicans, and it’s a clear sign that the Republican Party needs a new strategy.
President Donald Trump was able to win in 2016 by tapping into a base of far-right extremists within the Republican Party. That bloc may be able to win a primary and the occasional general election, but with Trump’s loss in 2020 and a lackluster performance from his endorsed candidates in 2022, it’s becoming more clear that appealing to the far right is not a winning strategy.
To win in 2024, Republicans need to reaffirm their core belief in “small government,” while simultaneously backing issues that are supported by the electorate at large. By advocating for laws that allow abortion access, legalize marijuana use and support the LGBTQ+ community, Republicans can appeal to the independents they’ve alienated over the past six years. Reversing their stance on these issues isn’t just ideologically consistent with a conservative belief in deregulation. These issues represent opportunities to attract a larger share of the electorate that could propel the GOP to victory in 2024.
First, Republicans need to avoid painting a black-and-white picture on abortion. They should advocate for restrictions on the procedure rather than an all-out ban. Abortion was one of the most important issues for voters in the midterms. After the Supreme Court overturned federal protections for abortion and Republican-controlled states began implementing extreme abortion bans, Democrats experienced a jump in the polls that fueled their strong performance on election night. Voters in five states, including Michigan, approved ballot initiatives protecting abortion rights in the midterms. Across the board, candidates who were seen as anti-choice fared worse.
Republicans can’t afford to back full bans on abortion — they’re far too unpopular. Where they can make gains is by advocating for limited restrictions on the procedure. While a clear majority of Americans opposed overturning Roe v. Wade, a similar majority also supported adding certain restrictions to the procedure, such as requiring women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion.
Republicans will continue to lose if they support full bans on abortion. But if they focus on specific restrictions, they have a chance to regulate a procedure they passionately oppose while also attracting more supporters.
Like abortion, marijuana was also on the ballot this election cycle. Missouri and Maryland became the most recent states to legalize recreational marijuana, bringing the total number up to 21. A growing majority of Americans want marijuana to be legalized nationally, especially in swing states. In Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where recreational marijuana is illegal, 60%, 61% and 66% respectively support legalization. That endorsement remains high across virtually every demographic, including age, education level, party affiliation and race.
Tying a campaign to the legalization of marijuana is a tremendous opportunity to gain followers. Senator-Elect John Fetterman, D-Pa., flipped a seat last election cycle in part by implementing this strategy. Legalization has enthusiasts of every party affiliation. If Republicans embraced Fetterman’s libertarian stance on marijuana, they could make huge gains in states across the country.
Another opportunity for Republicans to make gains is on LGBTQ+ issues. In recent months, Republican state legislatures have pushed bills that ban transgender participation in sports, limit discussions of sexual identity and criminalize gender-affirming care for minors.
Republicans should wholly reject these measures, first and foremost because of the quantifiable harm they cause. Beyond this danger, they’re overwhelmingly opposed by most Americans, especially young people.
Young Americans are increasingly identifying as LGBTQ+ and decreasingly approving of Republicans. For LSA freshman Alex Mathews, those trends are linked. Mathews said, “A lot of [Republican] politics involve bigotry and misogyny and racism … things that shouldn’t represent a fair future.” Mathews went on to assert that “the problem [is] they base their party a lot off of religious values” and “a lot of religious people are anti-LGBTQ.”
With support for marriage equality ballooning in popularity, some Republicans have already challenged their party’s official position on same-sex marriage. In November, 12 Republicans joined Democrats in a Senate vote that would enshrine federal protections for same-sex marriage.
In the face of broad opposition to their policies, Republicans reexamined their positions. While the party still has plenty of work to do to establish a record of support for LGBTQ+ people, this recent vote shows that some Republicans are open to the idea of reform. If more Republicans recognize that supporting the LGBTQ+ community is a winning issue for voters, they’ll be able to attract more voters to their coalition.
To win in 2024, Republicans need to showcase their commitment to deregulation and small government by reversing their positions on these key issues. Joining an overwhelming majority of Americans in advocating for increased abortion access, marijuana legalization and support for the LGBTQ+ community provides a roadmap to taking back the presidency in 2024.
Even if they do make these policy shifts, Republicans are in a crunch for time. Two years is a short time to change an entire country’s perspective on a party, but as the most recent midterms show, stranger things have happened.
Jack Kapcar is an Opinion Columnist & can be reached at email@example.com.