Republican Panelists Say GOP Must Adapt to a Changing America

Future of the Republican Party
Mark Kelsey

Karen Hughes, former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, speaks about the future of the Republican party at the JFK Jr. Forum on Wednesday. Hughes joined four other panelists and moderator Trey Grayson.

The Republican Party must increase the diversity of its ideas and members to achieve electoral success, according to five prominent Republicans who spoke at a panel discussion at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum Wednesday night.

“I think that young people care very much about having a more open society,” panelist and former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Kerry M. Healey ’82 told her audience. She named gay rights and environmentalism as issues that matter to the nation’s younger voters.

Healey was joined on the panel by Ronald I. Christie and Karen Hughes—both members of former President George W. Bush’s inner circle—as well as CNN contributor Ana Navarro and John Murray, former deputy chief of staff to U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor. At the event, which was hosted by the Institute of Politics and moderated by IOP director C. M. Trey Grayson ’94, all five panelists urged their party to incorporate a greater variety of perspectives.

Christie kicked off the discussion by saying the GOP has erred by not making a greater effort to reach out to young people and people of color. It has also made a mistake by behaving in a way that seems “hostile” and “angry” to some, he said.

Panelists also reflected on the GOP’s poor showing in last November’s election, which saw Democrats retain their grip on the White House and strengthen their hold on the Senate. Navarro said that she blames the GOP’s failure to appeal to diverse groups for its disappointing performance.

“We had bad outreach, we had a bad message,” she said, adding that she believes Republicans can “sound to others as righteous, judgmental people.”

To rectify these problems, “I don’t think Republicans need to shift, but to accept diversity of thought,” Navarro said.

Panelists agreed that the party should seek ideological diversity by embracing voters who may not identify as Republicans. In this vein, Healey said that libertarians and moderates must be invited into a “coalition of conservatives,” which could coalesce around issues such as international affairs, fiscal policy, and states’ rights.

At times, panelists went beyond merely reflecting on the party’s past to instead comment on its future.

Healey, who served as membership secretary for the Harvard Republican Club when it had only 12 members, told the audience she will not seek the U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts recently vacated by Secretary of State John F. Kerry.

“But I promise we’re going to have a wonderful, wonderful candidate,” said Healey, who did not reveal which possible contender she supported.

—Staff writer Steven R. Watros can be reached at watros@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @SteveWatros.

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