FAIRBANKS – Alaska’s two Republican members of Congress said the nation’s changing demographics played a role in their party’s electoral losses Tuesday, but they offered different prescriptions about how the voting public’s new look should fit in the GOP’s future.
Nationally, the debate among GOP leaders and commentators is an array of opinions.
Some say the party must moderate some of its positions to attract voters from an increasingly diverse electorate. Others argue the party should adhere to its principles but do a better job of delivering its message. Still others share a little of each view.
Senator Lisa Murkowski is blunt in her assessment of the Republican brand.
“I believe absolutely that if we are to be a relevant party going into the future, we have to look at the future and look at the demographics of this country,” Murkowski said in an interview Friday. “Whether it’s the growing Hispanic population or the enthusiasm or energy among young people, let’s tap into that.”
Murkowski said the party’s demographic difficulty is apparent in the Senate.
“I have suggested that people need to look no further than the makeup of Republicans in the Senate. It is primarily male, Caucasian, older, from the South,” she said. “That’s one demographic, but it is not the only demographic, and it is not the only demographic that will allow us to continue as a strong party. We’ve got to recognize that the world around us has changed.”
Representative Don Young, who has been in the U.S. House since 1973, said it’s the cyclical nature of politics that is to blame for his party’s setbacks in the election. The party shouldn’t abandon its principles, he said.
“I’ve been through so many party shakeups; 12 to 14 years ago, the Democrats were dead,” Young said Friday. “This is a cycle. There’s no doubt about this in my mind.”
Even so, Young said the party shouldn’t dismiss the changing demographics of the voting public. “The demographics of the election, you still have to look at it,” he said.
He said he believes that minority groups that voted largely for President Obama will, as they age, become conservative and drift toward the Republican Party.
“You look back through history and when immigrants came over from Europe, they primarily voted Democratic,” Young said. “But once they got established and in business … they vote Republican.”
Young said he won’t change his views on the issues.
“This is not the end of the world,” he said. “We have to stand by our principles. My principles will not change.”
Murkowski, who generally is viewed as a moderate Republican, said the GOP still has a good policy foundation.
“I think our message, the ideas, in so many ways are strong and solid,” she said. “I believe our ideas are there, but where we are failing is to communicate these ideas to the changing demographics.”
“When we talk about strength of the economy and certain values for small businesses, that is something that resonates with this community,” she said. “Let’s have that conversation. Let’s not say ‘They aren’t going to be with us on this issue so let’s not do that reaching out.’”