Politics & Media
May 12, 2009, 06:20AM

Save The GOP

The Republican Party could conceivably turn this down-time into an advantage, but the odds don't look good.

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There’s no question that it’s a tough time to be a Republican. Look no further than the cover of this week’s Time magazine, which features the trademark Republican elephant under the headline: “Endangered Species.” Democrats control the White House, the House and the Senate, and if recent polls are accurate, the hearts and minds of the majority of Americans too. Arlen Specter’s defection and Al Franken’s inevitable victory in Minnesota will give Senate Democrats a filibuster-proof 60 seat-majority in the Senate. House Republicans are led ineffectively and are in no position to mount a credible challenge to any legislation that President Obama or the Democratic majority wants to pass. RNC Chairman Michael Steele has been a colossal disappointment, and now borders on earning “national joke” status. Any fair-minded person would admit that the media are in the tank for Obama and the Democrats, only furthering the inability of Republicans to mount any sort of quasi-effective counteroffensive.

It’s hard to deny that the Republican Party is facing something of an abyss right now—certainly for my generation. We grew up during the Reagan Revolution, saw the Democrats briefly surge when Bill Clinton was elected, but then witnessed the Republican Revolution of 1994 in which the Republicans gained control of the House and the Senate—the former for the first time in four decades. And there were heady times initially in the George W. Bush years, too, particularly when, very briefly, it was the Republican Party that controlled both the executive and legislative branches of government. But shortly after Bush was reelected in 2004, almost everything went sour. President Bush squandered residual goodwill from the electorate, most notably in the mishandling of the first years of the Iraq War, as well as Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The severity of the GOP’s dire straits was confirmed in the 2006 midterm elections, and the situation only worsened for the party as it stumbled into the 2008 elections. John McCain never had a chance in November (and really, no Republican candidate would have), and the Democrats built upon the legislative majorities they already held. So what now for the Republican Party? Are Republicans, as most of the media brays, really an endangered species?

The irony is that this could be a great opportunity for the GOP. Americans have not seen a government this liberal in recent history. Between Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, the country is dealing with individuals in the key positions of power who are extraordinarily liberal. With no legislative or popular leverage for Republicans, Obama’s agenda will sail through the House and the Senate. In a matter of months, there could be some very significant changes in the country that will affect Americans in their day-to-day lives. As a Republican, I fervently believe that the majority of people will not be happy with everything that Obama has done, not to mention the more worrisome things he has yet to do. And it’s here the GOP’s opportunity becomes apparent. A popular backlash to Obama’s policies would give Republicans the chance to remind the voters who they are, what they stand for, and to present a stark contrast from what we are sure to see from the Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress. This is an opportunity that the GOP has not had since Reagan assumed office following President Carter’s disastrous single term. Unlike today, during the Clinton years, the Republicans were in control of the House and Senate for the majority of his two terms, and perhaps more importantly, Clinton often led from the center of the political spectrum. Clinton’s poll-driven and fickle “centrism” offered no true chance for a Republican contrast. The situation is different now. There is no such moderation in President Obama, and he’s too ambitious not to take advantage of having such decisive control of the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. But should the Obama agenda fail, there will be no one else for the Democratic Party to blame.

Obviously, it’s not that simple. While perhaps optimistic Republicans would argue that Obama and his party now have just enough rope to hang themselves, the President is too smart to walk into such an obvious trap. Obama and the Democrats won’t implode on their own, and to the extent they do fail and suffer for it politically, Republicans still have to present a coherent alternative. The Republicans currently are not capable of rising to this challenge.  Ideological fault lines have created deep divisions within the GOP, a party that used to pride itself on its “big tent” philosophy, and on its ability to accept and embrace people of varying views—particularly with regard to social policy. Certain portions of the party still practice this, but others have become far more stringent about the litmus tests applied to those who seek to identify themselves as Republicans.

This constricted and narrow-minded approach to party ideology is an impediment that must be dealt with before the GOP can rise again. But who will take them there? As of now, there is no clear leader. The person or persons who exhibit the ability to unite the currently divided party will likely earn Reagan-esque levels of admiration for achieving such a feat. I don’t know who this person is. I’m not sure any Republican really does. Perhaps it is someone who is young and only now beginning a political career. Or maybe it’s a more unlikely figure, someone who’s been around for a while. Either way, I tend to doubt the Republican Party will find this person in time to mount a credible challenge in 2012, but eventually, they will find him (or her). Because from adversity comes strength, and the ideals that Republicans of every ilk still commonly hold dear remain powerful, identifiable and appealing to many Americans—even if those who fail to lead the GOP now have temporarily lost sight of them.

  • Let's hope, for the sake of the country, that the GOP stays out of power for another generation.

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  • Bragg, you're a worrywart. One, unless you run for office (not a bad idea), there's not a damn thing you can do. If the economy falters, Obama's not in good shape; if it recovers, more power to him. Meanwhile, that filibuster-proof Dem. Senate hold is tenuous, with Specter, Nelson and Lieberman picking and choosing their issues.

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  • Thanks for the comments, Timothy. I'm 100% guilty of being a worrywart, that I'll admit! But even though I do tend to worry, I think worrying is called for given the state of the Republican Party right now. It will improve, but whether that begins in 2010, 2012 or beyond, I don't know. I agree that several moderate senators will prevent all of Obama's agenda from being "rubber-stamped" in the Senate, but at the end of the day, they do have the numbers, and that is, well, worrisome!

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