Republicans ask 'where do we go from here?'
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Some activists in both parties say Republicans eventually must follow suit to survive. But their primaries are dominated by staunch opponents of tax hikes, abortion, immigration reform and government regulations. Until and unless that changes, a shift toward the center may be impossible.
"It's harder for the Republicans, because they are more ideological than Democrats,'' said Democratic strategist Doug Hattaway. "The religious fervor of the Republican base makes it hard to change or compromise, even though that's what's needed to remain viable as a party.''
While Holt and others say the Republican Party is aligned with most Americans on big issues, Tuesday's exit polls raise doubts in some areas. Six in 10 voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, the highest share saying so since the mid-1990s. Two-thirds of voters said illegal immigrants working in the United States should be offered a chance to apply for legal status.
Nearly half of all voters supported Obama's plan to raise taxes on couples' incomes above $250,000. Thirteen percent said taxes should be increased on all Americans, and 35 percent said no one should pay higher taxes.
Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell will stand at the center of the intra-party debate. Within days they must decide how to negotiate with Obama and Democratic lawmakers on the looming "fiscal cliff,'' a package of major tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled for the new year.
McConnell issued a defiant statement Wednesday. "The voters have not endorsed the failures or excesses of the president's first term,'' he said. "They have simply given him more time to finish the job they asked him to do together with a Congress that restored balance to Washington.''
Boehner was more conciliatory in tone when he addressed reporters Wednesday. But he recommended Romney's tax package – including rate cuts for everyone and the elimination of yet-to-be-named deductions – which he said would create a net increase in government revenue.
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