Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Post-Election Thoughts: The Future of the GOP

Mitt Romney’s stock has substantially increased among the GOP. The GOP tends to nominate someone that has had significant presence on the national scene. Usually the party nominates someone that has previously vied for the nomination and has either won or come in second place. Sometimes they have nominated a former VP candidate. Only rarely have Republicans broken from this pattern. Thanks to this pattern they ended up with Bob Dole in 1996 and John McCain (whom some have said is Bob Dole II) this year.

Democrats tend to do just the opposite. They usually nominate new faces, as was the case this year when they favored a relatively inexperienced Senator Obama over Hillary Clinton, their second best nationally known personality, (her husband Bill being the first).

Romney also improved his lot with the GOP by seriously campaigning for McCain. Although a McCain victory would likely have killed Romney’s chances for the party’s nomination in the future, he stumped for McCain in a full-hearted manner. Let’s just say that he has made significant inroads with the people that make up the party machine.

The entry of Gov. Sarah Palin onto the national GOP stage as McCain’s VP pick somewhat complicates Romney’s ascendancy to the party’s nomination because she avoids the party’s religious rift. There is no question that such a strong anti-Mormon current exists among Evangelical Republicans that a significant part of the party opposes Romney based on religion alone. Palin, herself an Evangelical Christian, would strongly appeal to Evangelicals that cannot stomach Romney’s Mormon religion.

Of course, no one knows today whether Palin will even consider a run in 2012. She’s a relatively new governor. Events in her state over the next couple of years could improve or damage her stock. Like all politicians, she has been shown to be imperfect. But there are sure to be groups with money and clout that will solicit her candidacy. Time will tell if she follows their siren song.

But who is in charge of the party right now? That’s not exactly clear. When a party has a president in the White House (or a president-elect going there), that person is the party’s leader. When a party has no one in the White House (or on their way there), party leadership is less clear. The national committee provides structure but not necessarily leadership. Different people vie for leadership and it even shifts from moment to moment. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. We’ll have to watch and see who emerges.

If politics is about winning, it should be clear to Republicans that they’re doing something wrong. They managed to hold onto enough senate seats to sustain a filibuster as long as no more than a couple of their senators defect (as has commonly been the case). But crowing about this is like being proud to be the owner of the wheel chocks instead of the owner of the airplane.

The GOP needs major retooling. Republicans need to offer something other than Democrat-lite. People that buy into the liberal-populist agenda will go for the genuine article every time over the wannabes. People need a real alternative, not just a different version of the same thing.

As Dick Armey has famously said, “When we act like us we win. When we act like them we lose.” Republicans need to figure out what they stand for and why they stand for it. They seem to have lost any sense of unifying principle other than to not be Democrats. When Republicans get this figured out they need to act accordingly.

I’m not holding my breath for this to happen. Too many in the GOP seem to be geared up to be in permanent minority status. They’re happy to fight the little squabbles rather than doing the hard lifting of redefining ideology.


Anonymous said...

Many people have recognized the fact the the GOP needs to figure out what they stand for. I like that you also include the fact that they must also figure out why they stand for what they stand for. I think that's important.

Scott Hinrichs said...

This is the challenge of all large political parties. Since parties consist of factions only bound by common interests, it is essential to determine precisely what those common points are and then to capitalize on them.

Additionally, factions generally engage in some give-and-take. If your faction agrees to support our main issue, our faction will agree to support your main issue. Compromise and exchange is how politics works.

It is dangerous for any faction of a party, no matter how powerful it may be within the party, to promote issues unsupported by other factions as if the others are full supporters. There must be some agreement or else the other factions will feel disenfranchised. All factions of any size must feel that their very most important issues are respected and promoted of they will take their ball and go home.

I think that this is part of what has happened to the party.

Charles D said...

If the GOP's best offerings are Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin they are indeed without hope.

I can recall a time when there were Republican statesmen who believed in conservative principles but treated their liberal colleagues with respect and debated them on ideas. These were men (there were few women of power in those days) who were willing to compromise for the good of the country.

Republicans used to have a viable political viewpoint. When the chips were down, they put the good of the nation above partisan politics and ideology. Today's Republicans have a political viewpoint, but it has been demonstrated to be a failure.

We have had almost 30 years of Republican conservative policy and it has nearly destroyed the economy, ruined our nation's reputation in the world, and caused the suffering and death of untold millions of people. Yet Republicans cling to those policies.

Perhaps the American people are beginning to catch on to the fact that Republicans are not their friends.

Scott Hinrichs said...

DL, you are welcome to your view, but I feel that your condemnation of conservative principles is a bit over the top. I lean more toward Rep. Jeff Flake's (R-AZ) take on the issue. While the GOP held all the levers of power in Washington, there was much lip service to conservative principle, but much action that flew in the face of those principles.

On the other hand, it is probably news to many conservatives that the GOP is made up of more than just conservatives and that some factions don't buy into the conservative ideology.

It is also probably news to many that label themselves conservative that there are different brands of conservatism and that not all conservatives buy into every policy labeled conservative. Some "conservatives" bought Bush's rhetoric about centralized education planning and expansion of Medicare being forms of "compassionate conservatism." Others saw these as big government power grabs.

On your Romney and Palin criticisms, you have some valid points (although many of my fellow conservatives would probably excoriate me for admitting as much). However, I cannot see that the Democrats are much better off. Their recent gains are more in the vein of being in the right place at the right time, as the public has come to see that the GOP has been lousy at governing in general, as well as lousy at following their own principles (i.e. being hypocrites).