Friday, November 7, 2008

Reshaping the Republican Identity

Since the nation-wide electoral defeats Tuesday night, the GOP has been discussing strategy for how to save their party in light of what appears to be realignment.


This comes as former Bush speechwriter David Frum writes extensively on the fall of the GOP in 2008 and how the Republicans can make a comeback.

Current divisions are growing tense within the Republican Party between the populist Evangelicals and the anti-tax neo-conservatives that better characterize intellectual libertarians than President Bush.

The best case study of this tension is Governor Sarah Palin, who continued to embolden the values voters and other populist Republicans, but seriously turned-off the elite neo-cons who were the center of Reagan's GOP.

Peggy Noonan, Christopher Buckley, Kathleen Parker, David Brooks, and Thomas Friedman all wrote negatively of the "Wasilla hillbilly" - including remarkable criticisms such as "she is out of her league" (Parker), "a mark against John McCain, against his judgment and idealism" (Noonan), and "she represents a fatal cancer to the Republican Party" (Brooks).

Our personal favorite may be "If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself" (Parker again).

Even former Reagan Chief of Staff, Ken Duberstein, decided to endorse Obama because of Governor Palin.

Still today, as President-Elect Obama begins his transition to the White House, rumors about Palin continue to haunt the GOP.

On the issues, the Republican Party is having difficulty framing winning arguments on trickle-down economics, climate change, and health care reform. The key issues that Lee Atwater used to bolt the Republicans for over twenty years were welfare and crime, but today they have little resonance.

Demographically, Republicans are scared of their dwindling support among Latinos and other groups. House Minority Leader John Boehner has argued for the party to redirect efforts to win back voters in the Northeast and Great Lakes states.

Republicans may even have to take a cue from the UK Conservative leader, David Cameron, who has had to move his party away from the neo-conservative movement promoted by Thatcher and closer to the middle.

But no matter what the strategy is, the key will be winning moderates that are disillusioned with the populist Evangelical movement without offending their base.

There is even confusion as to how to handle an Obama presidency - over whether they should work with the President so to not appear hyper-partisan, or to criticize him at every move in order to win what battles they can.

Already, a memo has been circulating Washington criticizing Obama's pick of Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-IL) for Chief of Staff, and pointing out Iranian President Ahmadinejad's congratulations to Obama. At the same time, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) applauded the Emmanuel pick, and Republican strategist Craig Shirley criticized the GOP for only knowing how to attack a political foe.

No matter what path the Republicans take now, it seems they will be unable to keep their current coalition together - let alone bring in enough moderates to win some elections - for some time.

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