Quote of the Day: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” –Mark Twain
TB’s been thinking about the state of politics in America lately, and trying to set aside my ingrained bias against the Republican Party to consider objectively what they can do to resurrect their fortunes. Today’s party shift by Senator Specter in particular got me thinking about what has become of the party that only six years ago was generally believed to be in the midst of an extended, if not permanent period of majority. My task as an uninvited, uncompensated and unsympathetic consultant is not to re-hash what led the GOP to this point, but to offer a blueprint for how they might regain relevance on the national scene.
I start with the premise that current Republican leadership has revealed only one plan so far. That is to simplify their message, reinforce their traditional conservative tenets of fiscal responsibility and strong national security, and remain confident that the Democrats are screwing things up so badly that if they do nothing they will be perfectly placed to regain power in 2012. That may well happen, but (a) it may not and (b) it may not be as bad as what the Bush era is currently considered. It is natural that Republicans would favor this plan because it is essentially what Democrats did to take over in the first place. I don’t think the circumstances are similar enough between now and 2000 for that plan to succeed however, and so I offer an alternative that involves putting the “Old” back in GOP–a return to their roots.
Before determining where they should go, Republicans need to take a step back and see how the world has changed since 1980. First, there are a few issues that Republicans like to focus on that they have already won. Tax rates for the wealthy are not 70% or even 50% any more and have not been for longer than half the electorate can even recall, and are unlikely to ever return anywhere near those levels. The second amendment is safe. Really, it is. Probably a third or more Democrats in Congress are unelectable if they turn against the NRA. And finally, the whole country is now “pro-military” save for a few far left enclaves. There will be no drastic cuts to the military the way there were in the 1970’s. After these big generational victories, comes the stalemate issue–abortion. Neither the pro-choicers nor the pro-lifers are going to get the result they want so this battle has been reduced to small scale changes depending on who’s in charge at any given time. The changes do not justify the resources nor the political capital invested to fight for or against. Finally, the GOP needs to realize that they have lost the fight on what used to be called “family values” but now is called “gay marriage.” There are still many battles left over gay marriage, but the same way I can tell you by late in the first quarter each year that Mississippi State is going to lose to LSU I can tell you this issue is lost. The other major lost issues for the right are keeping the status quo on health care and energy/climate change policy. Most people want health care and big business can’t compete internationally without it. And most people think global warming is a threat while virtually all Americans want to gain energy independence from the Arabs.
With all of the above in mind, here’s my advice to the plank writers of the Republican platform:
- Take a few pages out of the Democratic plan. The Democrats engage in internecine warfare on a regular basis and it often weakens them on certain issues. However they seldom spend more than a few days beating wayward Dems or even Blue Dogs over the head, and they are strengthened in the long run. They have a bigger tent. They may resent their conservative leaning brethren, but they don’t crucify them the way the Republicans do their dwindling number of left leaning members. Republicans need a few yankees, even if they have little in common with the southern base of the party. And they need to put California or New York back in play in presidential politics if for no other reason than to cost the Democrats a little money in exchange for all those electoral votes.
- Collect their winnings on the issues on which Republicans have traditionally excelled. Drop guns down a few notches in importance. Re-focus on national security by advocating smart spending on new technology and a smaller, more mobile and efficient force. Highlight programs that need to be canned and others that are underfunded. Push for the establishment of a commission similar to the one that closed bases all over the country in the 1990’s to lead this effort. Try to make defense spending have a greater positive impact on domestic stimulus. And establish a civilian jobs division under the control of the Army. One of the undeniable modern uses of military force is to stabilize and rebuild conquered states, what used to be called “nation building”. One of the lessons of Iraq is that it cost too much to pay Halliburton to do all the building, cooking, public relations, teaching, and whatever other non-fighting tasks were necessary. Use the pool of Americans who want to serve their country or even those that just want military benefits but don’t want to carry a gun. It will make the military more cost effective and during times of peace this civilian force can be deployed in areas of need in the US or abroad. And though part of what I’m describing involves fiscal discipline, take that a step further and drastically limit earmarks from your membership. Set a cap, like the salary cap in the NFL, per Representative or Senator. Do this and either the Democrats follow suit and the whole country benefits or they don’t and you have a great issue for the next election cycle.
- Take their lumps. The religious right ain’t goin nowhere. It’s time to embrace civil unions for gays if not marriage outright. In fact, if enough states hurry up and pass civil union legislation it might be enough to stop the gay marriage momentum. And figure out a way to support universal health care. Maybe let the government pay for new medical educations or pay off student loans of doctors in exchange for a set number of pro bono days in service of the poor. Maybe push for dollar for dollar tax credits for all medical expenses for everyone making less than $250,000 a year. Maybe shorten the amount of time a drug company or medical device manufacturer can hold a patent. Hell I can’t do it all for them, but all of these ideas at least in some way are consistent with traditional conservative values and I’m sure the think tanks could come up with some more. On global warming, just ignore it and focus instead on alternative energy business stimulation. Business support is where Republicans are best. Help people and companies make money in wind and solar and be amazed at the way the climate issues will resolve on their own.
- Finally, get out front on a couple of things. Neither party wants to really address immigration, for different reasons. The left is afraid of alienating minorities and the right doesn’t want to deprive business of the benefits of cheap labor. It will hurt, but this issue is waiting to be won and all it will take is support for enforcement of existing laws and harsh penalties for businesses that exploit this illegal labor supply. Success for corporate America is good, but it must not be seen to come at the expense of citizens and with the help of politicians. Republicans also need to dust off the old Teddy Roosevelt model and update his trustbusting ways to address the problem of overly powerful multi-nationals. They need to drop the mantra that all government is bad and recognize areas where it can be used wisely and with restraint. Bring back the Bull Moose, I say, and save the Gipper for when he’s needed again.
There are plenty of other issues that are important, but my research shows these to be the ones with the most potential to recapture the portion of the electorate turned off by niche wedge issues, religious hypocrisy and profligate spending by both parties. Maybe Republicans are right in their current policy positions. At the very least maybe they won’t change their feelings on the inside. But to regain their lost stature, this is a blueprint, errr redprint for success.
I know that a lot of you who read my blog are either conservative or lean conservative and I’m interested in your thoughts on how the Republicans can regain their strength. I genuinely tried to brainstorm a new course that I thought upheld conservative values while moving them a bit toward the center. My bias is acknowledged from the start, but I endeavored to approach the issue as objectively as possible.
So let’s hear it. Am I completely off base or on to something? Is it the prevailing view that the Republican Party is handling things well already or do you agree they need a new game plan? Are you at all concerned, as I am, that the GOP is becoming a regional party and entrenching themselves as a solid bloc in opposition to the rest of the country? Or is this just a swing of the pendulum which is reaching its zenith to the left?