This is not a happy time for Republicans. Let’s face it, it’s a bummer when your presidential candidate, despite being something of a pragmatic across the aisle type, still loses by seven percent. Nor is it good to have lost six more senate seats (with the possibility that two more may be lost) and twenty-four house seats. If you are a Republican, you have to look hard for any good news. The only good news I could find is that Tennessee is bucking trends and is becoming more Republican. Its legislature is now in the hands of Republicans for the first time since reconstruction.
It is no fun being out of power. Only in the U.S. Senate do Republicans have any hope of flexing their muscles and that is only if they keep Democrats from winning a sixty seat filibuster proof majority. A count of ballots in Minnesota, which is still underway, shows that challenger Al Franken is less than a hundred votes from taking the seat of incumbent Norm Coleman. In Georgia, if the dynamics of the race change just a little in a runoff election between incumbent Saxby Chandler and challenger Jim Martin, the seat could move into the Democratic column also.
To think that just a few years ago Republicans were doing arrogant things like redistricting Texas congressional districts out of turn. Its champion, former Republican House Whip Tom Delay, resigned his seat after being indicted for violating election laws in 2002. (To add insult to injury, a Democrat now holds his seat.) After Republican successes in the 2004 election, Karl Rove excitedly talked about a permanent Republican majority. Now Republicans have lost the presidency, are at least nine seats away from a senate majority, and would need to turn 41 house seats to gain a majority there. Even with governorships, things look bleak. They are down to only 21 governorships, and lost another Republican governorship this November. It sure looks like the Republican Party is becoming just a regional party of the Deep South. The Rocky Mountain States are slowly turning blue: Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico all voted for Obama this year. Even deep red Idaho decided it preferred Democrat Walt Minnick in District 1 to incumbent Bill Sali.
Consequently, Republicans are now engaged in a lot of soul searching. How to get back into power? Recent history would suggest that their best bet is to hope the current guys screw up. Republicans have to hope that Barack Obama turns out to be as inept as President Bush, but it sure doesn’t look that way. The appointments Obama is making as he puts his government together suggests we will have a deeply pragmatic new president, bent on making the government work actually for the people. What a radical idea!
History would also suggest to Republicans that if your message is not selling then you should change your message. Strangely, as I read news stories, the idea of changing the Republican brand seems to be off the table. Take this story in yesterday’s Washington Post. Two fairly young Republican activists have created RebuildTheParty.com web site. They want to be as successful in engaging the Netroots as the Democrats have proven to be. Good luck with that. As for maybe changing their ideology? That seems off the table. The article quotes Republican Vander Platts, “We have followed the misguided advice of ‘experts’ to abandon our principles and move to the middle so we can supposedly win. In essence, we have become ‘lukewarm’ on life, on marriage, on the Second Amendment, on limited government, on balanced budgets”. His viewpoint is widely shared among Republicans. They believe they can win by more forcefully asserting the same messages that has led to their massive defeats. Never mind that America has never been a pro-life country, or that it is warming towards civil marriage for gays, or that it is not exactly embracing limited government. By being obstinate on these losing issues and by assuming incorrectly that America is naturally a center-right country, Republicans will magically get back into power!
To which I, a passionate Democrat, stand up and applaud. Yes, please Republican Party; continue to tell America that if elected you will deliver more of what we do not want. Not that I think one party rule is necessarily a good thing, because Democrats have proven to be equally as corruptible and myopic as Republicans. I worked at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the 1980s where influence was purchased. For example, a $5000 contribution got you into “The Speaker’s Club” where you had regular opportunities to press handshakes with Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill and provide him with your valuable perspective.
Republicans, you can keep your values and become a party that becomes increasingly irrelevant with every election. Or you can morph a bit toward the center and have a chance at governing again. In the spirit of bipartisanship, let me outline a Republican recovery plan.
First, the Republican Party has to fess up to its major and egregious mistakes. Mistake number one was George W. Bush. He has been something of a nuclear bomb to the Republican Party. He has been a total disaster of a president. You need to admit you made a colossal error in judgment by helping this guy become our president. Time columnist Joe Klein today said it accurately and succinctly: “At the end of a presidency of stupefying ineptitude, he has become the lamest of all possible ducks.” Do not let this guy anywhere near a Republican candidate again, not even for a closed-door fundraiser. Divorce yourself from the dude. If you see him walking down the street, cross over to the other side. Apologize to American. Here’s a script you can use. “You know, as a Republican I just have to apologize for helping to elect George W. Bush. If we had known he would turn out to be so bad, we would have voted for Al Gore. Sorry, we blew it.”
Second, you need to admit that you governed unwisely and badly when you controlled Congress. I hear a tiny mea culpa when you talk about getting back to your “core principles”. Except for a couple years under Newt Gingrich, I have never known a Republican president or a Republican congress that actually practiced what it preached about fiscal discipline. You need to put forward new candidates that have successfully demonstrated that the values they preach have worked. Frankly, you should consider any Republican in Congress to be tainted if they voted for the Iraq War or voted for bloated new federal programs or subsidies. I guess that means pretty much everyone in power in Congress except maybe Ron Paul. Do your best to get these losers out of office and maybe you can get some credibility back again.
Third, some policies you are fighting for the American people are never going to subscribe to, so stop bothering trying to sell these things. When you do, you just alienate voters. If you have to have these values, hide them until you get into office. No Democrat today with the exception of a few cranks will vote for gun control. Is it because they don’t believe in gun control? In many cases they would love to see gun control, but they also know it is no way to stay in power. Congratulations, you won the gun control debate. That debate has been won for generations, if not forever. Now you must give up a few of these loser issues too. You must stop bothering trying to overturn Roe v. Wade. Instead, you should be crossing the aisle to come up with solutions that reduce the likelihood that a woman will need to have an abortion in the first place. I don’t care how “right” you feel your position is, you cannot win this debate. Trying to do so merely inflames the opposition more, making your goal that much harder. Think of Sisyphus. You could save a lot more babies by giving money to Planned Parenthood so kids could get contraceptives than you ever will in a fruitless endeavor to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Fourth, give up the idea that you can solve deficits through cutting taxes. Its corollary: give up the idea that you can reduce the size of government. That’s only going to happen if we reduce our population. Why? Because the more of us there are around, the more services we need, the more we are in each other’s faces and consequently the more regulation will be required to keep us civilized. Another corollary: give up the idea that more freedom is always good. Freedom has consequences. If I have the freedom to drive a SUV, I am infringing on other’s rights to have a cleaner environment. We all want to have as much freedom as possible but we also want to be around as a species and have a clean planet in a couple hundred years too. We cannot accomplish it with unbridled selfishness masked as “freedom”.
Fifth, I hate to break it to you, but you guys and gals come across as really arrogant and obnoxious SOB’s. (I know the same could be said about many Democrats.) None of us have the answer to all of life’s questions. Nor does one philosophy fit all people. You need to develop a little humility. The good news is you have already mastered the passion thing.
So what should a future Republican Party look like? That’s for you guys to decide, because you can count me out. In general, you in the Republican Party urgently need to come to grips with the dichotomy between your glorified and absurd idealism and the real world the rest of us live in. If you want to earn back your street creds, give us safe neighborhoods, good schools and make sure the trash gets picked up on time. Show us leadership. If there is a new problem that government needs to address, tell us how you will find the money to pay for it. Your “you can have your cake and eat it too” philosophy is both ludicrous, dumb and has proven extremely dangerous. The wreckage is all over Wall Street and in our diminished portfolios. We see it in estimates that we need to spend a trillion dollars on our infrastructure alone just to get it up to code. That we have to spend this money now is because we didn’t spend it back then when we should have. You get the government you pay for.
If you seriously want us to have smaller government, make sure you point out to voters all the disintegrated roadways and bridges that will result. Or you can say these are common public assets and we all need to step forward and pay our fair share of taxes to fix them. The first few times you say this, it will come out weird. However, eventually you will be able to say it with a straight face. Say it often enough and you will believe it. It’s called stewardship.
So get real. Get grounded. Step away from the extremes. Be pragmatic. The best part of being a Republican is the hope and love of country that you express. Lose the naivety but keep the love of country, and join the rest of us in making this the best country for all Americans, not just people for who think and act like you.