Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Can Michael Steele’s "New GOP" Really Succeed?

RNC Chairman Michael Steele addressed his committee today, in the wake of a vote to rebrand the Democrats as the “Socialist Democrat Party”.

The speech fell along the lines of an ideas piece he submitted for Politico today - creating a New GOP. He said there would be three important ways for the Republicans to turn the corner.

1) The GOP must be forward-looking

From his speech:

The Republican Party is again going to emerge as the party of new ideas. It will take some time, for sure, but it is beginning now. Our governors are emerging with fresh answers to old problems. Some of our brightest stars in Congress are emerging with new approaches. New groups and new entities are being formed. Republicans are rising once again with the energy, the focus, and the determination to turn our timeless principles into new solutions for the future. The introspection is now over. The corner has been turned.

Simple enough, but as his speech demonstrates later on, a lot of the new ideas sound like more of the same.

2) The GOP must not shy away from opposing Obama policies

The guy who campaigned in favor of bottom-up style of governing is presiding over the most massive top down expansion of government bureaucracy and spending our country has ever seen or even contemplated.

Candidate Obama was very moderate in his views, but President Obama could not possibly be further to the far left. Candidate Obama talked about fiscal responsibility, about government living within its means. But President Obama is saddling our unborn grandchildren with mountains of debt. Candidate Obama boasted about cutting taxes, but President Obama will have to raise taxes to pay for his massive top-down government explosion.

Steele has done his homework. Recent polls show that Americans are very concerned about the size of the deficit this year, and that concern can easily play into the hands of the “tax-and-spend liberal” message of the GOP with some clever maneuvering.

He went on to say that they should not wage personal attacks on Obama. From his piece in Politico:

Let me make one point clear – Republicans will not make our opposition to the president personal. Republicans will challenge policies of the president that we believe are wrong, but our opposition will be done in very sharp contrast to the classless way that the Democrats and the far left spoke of President Bush.

Not only is it admirable strategy, but should be an effective one. The reason is simple: Americans will see it as an admirable strategy.

But it may be easier said than done. The far-right (that is essentially the remains) of the Republican Party hate Obama and do not fear demeaning him in “classless” ways. Take some of the demonstrators from the Tea Party protests for example.

But let’s assume that Steele has more influence as RNC Chair than he actually does, and the GOP only uses constructive arguments against Obama’s policies. The GOP will still be short of improvement. The simple reason is that while messaging may be improving within Republican ranks, and economic ideas are brewing, they are still the “Party of No” on issues like health care, the environment, and labor reform.

In his speech, Steele could only address these issues as such:

President Obama now wants to cap and tax every single American into paying higher utility rates. President Obama and his allies in Congress have now put their taxing eyes on soft drinks. President Obama and Democrat leaders want a brand new tax on our health care benefits and are devising a plan to give federal government bureaucrats control of our health care system. President Obama is backing a plan to take away the basic right of every American worker to cast a private ballot.

No real solutions found there.

Yet in his tirade against Obama, Steele did bring up some things that will sound like a reasonable argument - at least in a way that would presumably lead up to the GOP telling America about solutions of their own.

President Obama has for the first time in our history politicized the US Census process by putting political appointees in his White House in charge of it and wanting a corrupt, fraudulent organization to run it. President Obama and his far left allies are flirting with an attempt to squelch the basic freedom of speech of our nation's airwaves. President Obama's Attorney General is trying to use Mexican drug gang wars as a reason to advocate a new gun ban in America.

President Obama's Administration has disparaged our war heroes and veterans by suggesting that they are a threat to our safety, when the truth is they are the cause of our safety. The president, who thinks that every student should be able to go to college, is cutting much needed funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The president, who pledged that he would create millions of jobs through federal public works projects, now requires project labor agreements on such projects which effectively denies small and minority owned businesses access to those jobs because they are not unionized.

And the one the galls me the most: While the president sends his kids to a private school, he is at the very same time taking away opportunity scholarships from poor Hispanic and African-American kids right here in our nation's capital. Those are the facts of the president's first 100 days.

Harsh? Maybe - but if the GOP adopts these points in a standard message it could prove effective.

3) The GOP must seize on the momentum already building up nationally from the grassroots

Is there really such momentum? It’s possible - Steele seems pretty confident that it’s there.

Too bad the chattering classes inside the Beltway are too busy fretting over phony disputes and intra-party intrigue to notice that a change has indeed come to America. But it's not the one the Obama Administration wants aired on the nightly news.

Those of you who live outside of Washington know what I'm talking about. Those of you who actually attend Lincoln Day dinners, and county party events, those of you who toil in the vineyards, spending time in communities, in diners, in barber shops, and in coffee shops where real, every day people can be found. You know it is real. You can see it and feel it.

This change comes in a tea bag!

Of course, this momentum has hardly been seen. Thousands of conservatives protested against Obama’s fiscal policies on Tax Day, but thousands of liberals protested against the Iraq War (on a pretty consistent basis) before the 2004 elections as well.

But as we mentioned last month, it may still be cause for concern if you’re a Democrat.

So will Steele’s “New GOP” succeed?

Steele is beginning to mount an effective message against the Democrats and he properly recognizes the value of conservative grassroots activists to the GOP.

But it is only the beginning of a winning strategy, and he has many kinks to work out.

For example, he complains that Obama is moving the country to the far-left. Yet, polls show that American opinion is largely shifting left. Flat(ter) tax philosophy and individual responsibility are ideas that don’t resonate with Americans as well as they used to. Americans are more concerned with health care and global warming than welfare or crime. The GOP has not been able to produce a cohesive vision on these fronts.

Take the issue of gay marriage. It’s becoming legal in more and more states and could be legalized nationally within the next ten years. Polls find that more and more Americans are supporting this non-traditional arrangement. The shift has left the GOP scrambling to redefine their opposition to it.

Recently, Steele tried to recast this issue as a business issue rather than a values issue.

This is what he said on Saturday, in the shoes of a small-business owner:

Now all of a sudden I've got someone who wasn't a spouse before, that I had no responsibility for, who is now getting claimed as a spouse that I now have financial responsibility for…So how do I pay for that? Who pays for that? You just cost me money.

The obvious flaw in the argument is that straight couples that get married would be bad for business too, and thus bad for America - a big contradiction to Republican ideology. As columnist Matt Bandyk said of the Steele statement, “if this is actually what he meant to argue, the party's leadership is in bigger trouble than has been thought.”

The point is that America is progressing and the Republican Party is finding it difficult to adapt. Despite his pleas for Republicans to stop looking back, Steele invoked the name of Ronald Reagan a countless number of times today.

But that’s just the thing - the GOP needs a new Reagan and they know it. He not only saved them after Watergate, but reinvented conservatism to make it popular. In the aftermath of the Bush Era, they need such a messianic figure again.

Otherwise, the New GOP that Steele envisions will have a lot of trouble in the months and years ahead.

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