In the wake of the Tuesday election, the GOP must now ask itself the hard questions about how to proceed moving forward. There will be endless speculation about what went wrong, I'll leave that to other pundits. This is what the GOP must do, in terms of platform, procedures, ground game, etc. if they want to be successful in future elections.
1. Compromise on Abortion: Part of Obama's success came from painting Mitt Romney to look more like he was Rick Santorum ... that is a hyper-conservative on women's issues, particularly abortion. Despite Romney's repeated stance that he is against abortion, but would make exceptions for rape, incest, and mother's life, the average liberal here in New York City, when asked about what they knew of Romney's platform, didn't know that he allowed for these exceptions.
At a minimum, these exceptions must be included in the GOP's stance on abortion. Kicking the issue at large back to the states may also be a good plan at dodging the need to elaborate further and potentially alienating half the party. For the GOP to remain strong, the conservative and moderate sides need to be on the same page. Adopting the libertarian view of state's rights, while taking a preference that is against abortion, in general, but not unreasonably against it, is the best way moving forward.
But more so than that, abortion can not be a lithmus test for candidates in future primaries. Romney didn't lose this election himself half as much as Rick Santorum lost if for him. GOP members need to realize that long, drawn-out primaries result in all the favorable and unfavorable elements of the platform being laid out on the table for all Americans to see, and it provides plenty of ammunition for the Democrats. It was all too easy for them to make the case for the war on women, citing opposition to not only abortion but even contraception as major reasons. It doesn't matter that Romney had no problem with contraception beyond making other people pay for it.
2. It's Time to Accept Gay Marriage, Or Not Accept All Marriage. The GOP can go two ways on this issue. Marriage licenses are still issued at the state level, so they can once again kick this divisive social issue to the states, but they can take the libertarian stance a step further, and declare that the government has no business in the marriage business. If marriage is a sacred religious union, then logic dictates the government shouldn't be regulating it in any meaningful way, in either direction. The GOP stance should be to do away with "marriage licenses" and simply create generic "domestic partnerships" which any two adults can go into, and assign all the benefits previously assigned to married couples, to these licensed partnerships. If people want to get "married" they can go find a priest and leave it to the religion's individual discretion as to whether or not they want to recognize or perform marriages on same-sex couples.
While some conservatives will still take issue with this, there is no real religious argument to be made with this policy stance. It is a compromise I think the bulk of the GOP can realistically deal with.
3. The GOP Needs to Get Much, Much Better At Truth Management. Obama was able to paint them in a very specific, and inaccurate way. So much so that the liberals in my apartment really had no idea who Romney was (though they thought they knew exactly what he was because they had been spoon-fed by their biased media sources). They thought he was a strange conglomeration of Bernie Madoff and Rick Santorum with a bit of Newt Gingrich's belligerence. The reality is Mitt Romney is probably the most moderate candidate the GOP has ever nominated in the last few decades, probably since Nixon or Ford (Though the GOP in general trends towards their moderate side in presidential elections).
4. Embrace Latin Americans. George W. Bush made awesome gains with the Hispanic vote, which was promptly undone these last four years. The GOP has an opportunity to rewrite their own playbook now on immigration. Jeb Bush, the popular governor of Florida with a Latina wife and a mixed race son who is also proving to be a formidable politician, is in a prime position to run in 2016 (though its uncertain whether he would do it). His son, George P. Bush will likely move onto the national stage soon as well (he is already getting noticed). Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is popular, and Governor Susan Martinez of New Mexico (R) , who spoke at the RNC is also a rising star. The Latin population in this country is hard working, self-reliant, and religious. The GOP getting anything less than 70% of this voting demographic is, frankly, a disgrace. These people embody all the positive qualities the GOP extols. They need to remove xenophobia, embrace a DREAM Act style position, and recognize that these people are good for America.
5. Make Economics Interesting. Streamlining the tax code, encouraging investing and business ownership, etc, are all paramount. However, as we saw in this election, even when the economy is the number one issue, the average American simply isn't inspired enough or interested enough to have a proper discussion. Sound bytes about tax breaks for the rich (another truth management issue), ring much better than a lengthy explanation about how small businesses report their taxes. Romney's tax plan was actually a solid idea. Sure he didn't list specific loopholes he'd cut (there's probably a very great many of them to make-up the number he wanted) but his plan still was more of a comprehensive strategy than anything we got out of Obama, who simply wanted to increase a bunch of tax rates and hope the middle-class people getting slammed by them didn't notice.
Another thing the GOP needed to do, and will presumably still have to do in the next two elections is make the case, convincingly, for why deficit spending is going to hammer us in the future. While every American under 18 owes roughly $280,000 right now, no one is getting an invoice for it, so no one is noticing it, and when it finally does start to hurt us directly, it'll be too late. The GOP was great at freaking us out about the rampant spending, but without real concrete consequences and a timeline for them, no one is assigning the right amount of priority to the issue. Right now each American is 35% more in debt than people in Greece.
6. The GOP Needs to Make Peace With the Libertarians. Incomprehensibly, Colorado went to Obama, but went by an even bigger margin to legalizing marijuana. Legalizing drugs is usually a hallmark of libertarian movements, which means it's highly likely people who voted to legalize weed, also voted for big-government Obama. Because of their socially liberal stances, liberals can potentially pull libertarian voters who wanted to vote for a main candidate, but didn't get the libertarian Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) from the GOP. It all comes down to a gamble on each libertarian's priorities, whether he/she cares more about social or fiscal issues. Also, while we still don't know yet, it's likely Gary Johnson, formerly a Republican himself, pulled enough votes from Romney to cost him Ohio. Johnson isn't at fault for running, he was doing his patriotic duty by doing so, but he never should have had to run in the first place. The fact that the Libertarian Party needs to exist separately from the GOP just shows how far the divide between the two groups has gone since Barry Goldwater got smoked in 1964.
7. The Environment Still Needs Protecting. I'm not saying to buy into the whole carbon credit organic food hippy thing. However, the GOP used to be the protectors of the environment, going back to Teddy Roosevelt's creation of national parks, and Richard Nixon's creation of the EPA. Considering the GOP is supposed to be the party of hunting and being outdoorsman, they have adopted a very cavalier attitude about protecting the environment from society's expansion. When it comes to climate change, the rise of temperatures is undeniable, even if it isn't actually as bad as the liberals claim it is. The GOP should embrace a platform of contingencies to prevent the effects of climate change from destroying our way of life. As an engineer by trade, I've always took the position of "if we can't stop climate change, we can at least plan for it."
I think the GOP needs to embrace a similar position. This could mean advocating for taller seawalls, or the creation of new barrier islands (which could double as wildlife sanctuaries), or the commissioning of studies to target where natural disasters due to climate change might occur, and how best to mitigate their affects.
This is one place where the GOP's love of practical and business applications of science can become an asset.
8. Fix the Ground Game. Turnout was down some 14 million this year compared to 2008. Considering how enthusiastic the GOP was supposed to be, this is abysmal. The Democrats have a very strong ground game, one which focuses on early voting (that way have less people to focus on come actual election day). This is a place where the GOP needs to be more like the Democrats. Approach the colleges, get the college students involved, there are more right leaning students than anyone is willing to admit, use them. The GOP's biggest disadvantage is in marketing. They are slow to adopt social media, slow to keep up with the trends, and more and more look like the party of old white men, and the bitter irony is, the oldest, whitest man, Ron Paul, is by far the best at using the new media.
This by no means is a perfect solution to the GOP's current problems. Hell, 24 hours ago I thought we were doing fine. However, if we can't beat a president with a record like Obama's, then we are doing something wrong and we've got a year and a half before the midterm campaigns to iron out the kinks.