As of this writing, Rob McKenna has lost his bid for governor, and Kim Wyman has barely won the secretary of state’s race.
That’s a shame – for the state, not just them. Despite the strengths of their Democratic opponents, Jay Inslee and Kathleen Drew, McKenna and Wyman were far better prepared for those offices. Tuesday should have brought them both decisive victories.
The chief reason that didn’t happen is the scarlet letter behind their names: R. The Washington electorate has turned from purple to blue to indigo over the last 15 years or so. If Republicans as qualified and moderate as McKenna and Wyman can’t get statewide mandates here, it’s hard to think of any Republicans who could.
The toxicity of the GOP brand in statewide races may make partisan Democrats giddy, but it’s a big problem for the rest of us.
Any party that knows it will stay in power from one election to the next becomes arrogant, complacent and beholden. A state without competitive politics is only a step away from misgovernment.
The GOP could be competitive in Washington. The continuing success of anti-tax initiatives reflects public alignment with Republican fiscal policy. Education reform is a golden issue that much of the union-dominated Democratic Party has all but ceded to the GOP.
Ethnic groups now welded to the Democratic coalition – especially Latinos and Asian-Americans – could be pried loose. Most are hungry for accountable public schools. Many are cultural conservatives whose religious beliefs get ridiculed by secular liberals.
These might be low-hanging fruit if only the Republican Party didn’t come across as angry about change, indifferent about the safety net and insensitive to the concerns of minorities.
The state GOP must put the so-called “social issues” – abortion and gay marriage – on the back burner and keep them there. Legal abortion is simply not in play in this state. Gay marriage is a done deal. Don’t waste time and capital on these arguments. Move on.
Most important, the Republicans must roll their loose cannons off the deck – the Rush Limbaughs, Donald Trumps, Sarah Palins, Richard Mourdocks and others who feed the “war on women” trope, antagonize minorities or otherwise make the party look unfit to govern.
That’s a national problem, but the state GOP can’t wait until the national Republicans clean house; it may be waiting a long time. Fair or not, many Washingtonians draw a straight line between the national party’s worst and the state party’s best.
Former Gov. Dan Evans strengthened Washington’s Republican Party immeasurably in the 1960s by publicly disowning the John Birch Society and other wackos of the far right. Today’s party won’t thrive until it follows Evans’ lead and starts kicking its own clowns out of the tent.