Convention needs to be more than pep rally for GOP

The hugs, handshakes and energizing sound bites that have become the hallmarks of national political conventions won’t be enough.

The Republican Party faces a crisis of perception and direction. Tens of thousands of party faithful and on-the-bubble voters will be hungry to find clarity during this week’s national convention.

Americans are desperate for unified leadership and vision.

This cannot be the Donald Trump National Convention. Although the flamboyance and showmanship is to be expected from the party’s presumptive candidate, it should not be allowed to overshadow the larger concerns for which voters of all parties expect — and deserve — ideas.

Trump will have his spotlight moment, and he should. Regardless of the in-fighting and division that has followed this campaign, the fact remains he has demolished 16 candidates to get to the stage in Cleveland. The time for pettiness and subterfuge from within is over.

There are matters at hand much larger than Trump — yes, some things are bigger than him. Party platform should be tantamount. It’s time to know how the nation would move forward on critical matters — the economy, crime, immigration and the threats of terrorism and war. It’s time to talk specifics about the inertia both parties have created and how we will get past an unwillingness to cooperate and compromise.

No longer can the GOP hope to glide into the White House simply on animosity for Democrats.

The GOP must instead expend its energy addressing growing generational gaps that have eroded the base of its conservative platform. Those who consider themselves Republicans have shifted their personal viewpoints dramatically in the past few decades, and that movement has become seismic in recent years. The values of the Ronald Reagan era can still exist, but not without adapting to the realities of 2016.

Republican leadership has known this for years. In examining how the party managed to allow the election to slip away in 2012, at a time when President Barack Obama’s popularity was at its nadir, Republicans found they had created their own problems.

“Public perception of the party is at record lows. Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country. When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us,” party leaders surmised in a 2012 election post-mortem Growth & Opportunity Project report.

The party must provide substantive insight about how it can maintain its bedrock principles but be willing to accept those who don’t agree with even long-standing philosophical viewpoint. This is especially true if it wants to reach women, minorities and millennials — those who have felt particularly trampled this election season. The issues facing these groups and others are multi-faceted and should not be dismissed so casually.

The Republican Party was founded on the idea of challenging the intrusion of government into everyday life and to counter the growing liberalism of the Democratic Party. Those cornerstone beliefs should remain, but the party can no longer afford to exclude the growing number of Republicans who are anything but traditional. Inclusion is not the same as acquiescing. It is possible to disagree on fundamentals but still allow people to feel their ideas are valued.

Continuing down the unchanging path of ideological purity will not strengthen the Republican Party and will not serve those who still hold fast to its core principles. This week will provide an opportunity to show there’s a willingness to reach a unified goal, even if traveling divergent paths.

This is more than just a challenge to put its candidate in the Oval Office. This is an unprecedented battle over defining the future of the entire party.

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