As Election Sting Lingers, Republicans’ Recalibration Advances

By Erin McPike

Despite the ongoing political theater of the fiscal cliff negotiations, emerging signs show a Republican Party in the early stages of recalibration.

On issues ranging from immigration to contraception, gun control to taxes, high-profile actors within the GOP are standing up to the far right. A series of maneuvers since the November election drubbing indicate that changes are under way, even if some Republican operatives say that the party is simply continuing to react to the loss and re-litigating the election rather than proactively charging ahead.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a 41-year-old conservative, penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal last week in which he embraced a policy advocated by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: That oral contraceptives be made available as over-the-counter drugs. While the piece was widely noticed Friday morning, it was swept out of view later by coverage of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy.

Jindal explained his position by noting that forcing women to see doctors in order to obtain birth control pills adds extraneous governmental layers and drives up health-care costs; his argument, in effect, was that advocating greater access to birth control is a conservative stance.

“Thanks to President Obama and the pro-choice lobby, women can buy the morning-after pill over the counter without a prescription, but women cannot buy oral contraceptives over the counter unless they have a prescription,” he pointed out.

An influential Republican operative lamented that Jindal cast light on something that had fallen out of the national dialogue, complaining that there’s no reason to remind the public of an issue that caused Republicans fits this past year. But Jindal, who is widely expected to consider a 2016 presidential bid, observed that the Democrats successfully painted the GOP as opposing the use of birth control. That misconception is something high-level Romney campaign aides Katie Gage and Rich Beeson have said was a tough one for them to refute during the election, noting that it hindered their candidate’s electoral prospects.

In addition to losing support among women, Republicans lost the Latino vote by historic margins on Election Day. While officials on both sides of the aisle have cautioned that the Hispanic population doesn’t rise and fall based solely on the nation’s immigration policies, the optics of a legislative fight on the issue do hold significance.

In March, the American Conservative Union will host its annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. And while the country’s largest gathering of conservatives typically boasts a speaker roster peppered with controversial firebrands, the ACU unveiled a lineup of young and diverse headliners for the 2013 confab.

Among the speakers are Tim Scott, the 47-year-old African-American congressman from South Carolina who was appointed to the Senate this week; Ted Cruz, a 41-year-old Canadian-born Latino who was elected to the Senate from Texas last month; Marco Rubio, also 41 and a Cuban-American senator from Florida; and Susana Martinez, the 53-year-old Mexican-American governor of New Mexico. The 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, will also speak, as will Ron Paul, Jim DeMint and noted immigration reform champion Jeb Bush.

The lineup suggests that immigration may be a key topic of discussion at the conference, especially considering that CPAC will convene as related legislation may be moving through Congress.

Rubio has been hard at work preparing several measures that broach immigration reforms, and proposals he offered this year became the framework for executive actions taken by President Obama. Since that time, departing Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona introduced additional immigration reforms, another sign that more is to come next year.

In light of the Newtown shootings last week, Obama announced Wednesday that he will convene a task force to put forward gun-control and other public safety proposals next month. Republicans have been largely quiet on the issue, but some GOP lawmakers have shown a willingness to consider precautions. And the National Rifle Association broke a five-day silence this week following the massacre by saying it will offer “meaningful contributions” in the debate over how to prevent mass shootings.

Also, as the back-and-forth between House Speaker John Boehner and the president drags on over the impending fiscal cliff, increasing numbers of Republicans have conceded that tax rates will go up on the highest-earning Americans in order to avert the crisis. Even Grover Norquist, who runs the influential Americans for Tax Reform, has found ways to give cover to Republicans who signed his anti-tax-hike pledge so the country can avoid overall tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to kick in at year’s end.

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. 

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