Yikes, What Does the GOP Do Now?
As the GOP's troubles escalate into panic with no sign of a turnaround on the horizon, Daily Beast contributors weigh in on what it will take to rebuild the party.
David Frum, editor, NewMajority.com What the GOP needs to do immediately is simpler than what it needs to do in the long term. What it needs to do immediately is to hold together what remains of the Republican caucus in the Senate by allowing some leeway to Republican senators who have to represent more liberal states. For sure, we need to see an end to this unproductive tactic of running primary challenges against Republican incumbents in liberal districts. There’s an example of this in three cycles: Joe Schwarz in Michigan; Wayne Gilchrest in Maryland; and now Arlen Specter. It’s really easy to defeat a moderate incumbent in a Republican primary. In the first two cases, the more conservative replacement went on to lose the general election, and I don’t think many people are holding much hope that the person who replaces Arlen Specter will do well in 2010.
Over the longer term, it needs to retool itself so it can become competitive in the Northeast, Midwest, and California. In my view, that means four things: 1) a more-relevant economic message with health care at its core; 2) an environmental policy based on science; 3) a softer tone on social issues; 4) a renewed emphasis on competence in government.
There are people in the party who are pointing in this direction, most notably Gov. [Jon] Huntsman of Utah. It’s not a message the party wants to hear right this moment, but I think it’s the direction we will see the party taking.
Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House Republicans should stop thinking about the Republican Party and focus on thinking about America. If Republicans focus on developing and clearly communicating better solutions than the Obama-Pelosi-Reid Democrats, than the country will take care of solving the Republicans’ electoral woes.
Mark McKinnon, former media adviser to President Bush and Daily Beast columnist Eight years ago, the question was “How to Save the Democrats?” They were in the desert without water. There was talk of GOP domination for decades ahead. The media sounded the funeral dirge and the Democrats formed circular firing squads. The fun and interesting thing about politics is that it is unpredictable. Conventional wisdom gets turned on its ear. Shit happens. And it happens more and more. And faster and faster. The party in power has to take responsibility for events in an increasingly complex and dangerous world. And support will erode. The party out of power, the GOP in this instance, just has to be opportunistic and smart. And needs new leadership. More woman, more Hispanics, more African American, more diversity generally. And immigrant, environmental, and gay-friendly policies.
Nicolle Wallace, White House communications director under President Bush and Daily Beast columnist The Republican Party needs to relax and take one day at a time. We have plenty of time to pull ourselves together and get behind a few effective messengers and leaders to the party. All the handwringing is counterproductive.
Republicans always worry. I think any Republican telling the truth would say they’re still worried, but what’s happening is Michael Steele goes out and there’s a lot of finger-pointing. We spend all of our time in a circular firing squad. It would be more productive to get behind Michael Steele.
Also, I think we should keep it simple. I think at its core, it’s a party about freedom and advancing freedoms and individual freedoms and smaller governments, and I think all those discussions and debates are relevant, particularly if we’re going to have a Supreme Court battle.
Monica Crowley, political commentator and host of The Monica Crowley Show.
Yes, the Republican Party is in a precarious position, but there are signs of hope out there. I would remind folks that 58 million people voted for McCain. It was a six point spread between McCain and Obama in the election: between 58 and 59 million people voted against the Democrats. The U.S. remains a center-right nation. While Obama remains popular personally, support for his policies—especially big government and big spending—are not as high. There is a huge opportunity for Republicans and the conservative movement—if they can get their act together—to get back to their first principals of limited government and reducing the tax burden. Then they can really seize a providential opportunity to draw a distinction between the White House and themselves. This is the lesson of Specter. The GOP is not going to win by becoming like the Democrats, it is going to regain traction by sticking to its first principals. The reason they lose is because they have sold out and diluted their core principles to the point that the distinction with the Democrats has become almost inconsequential. The way to win is to get back to those first principals. The big challenge for the Republican Party is to find their 21st century candidate for president.
Meghan McCain, Daily Beast columnist Sen. Specter's voting record may not please many Republicans all the time. But you can’t avoid the fact that he's been re-elected four times—his votes clearly mean something to the people of Pennsylvania. [Michael] Steele also ignored the real opportunity Specter's decision presented. The chairman could have dealt with the real issues plaguing the GOP, perhaps by saying something like this:
"It is unfortunate Senator Specter has decided to leave the Republican Party he has called home for decades. It's also unfortunate that he most likely did so for political purposes. But we will use this as an opportunity to acknowledge today's GOP has its work cut out for it. We clearly need to work on defining who we are, not just by our words, but by our actions. This is how we will reverse the shrinking of our ranks and invite old and new members to the table so that Republicans’ core goals can help lead America once again."
I guess that type of statement would have been too "off-message" for the RNC to release. It's too bad, because the party needs brave, articulate leaders who can balance a strong stance for core Republican beliefs with an inclusive message aimed at the electorate. Both Specter and Steele failed this week: One didn't stand up and fight for the soul of this party, and the other shrank to appeal to one of its most destructive characteristics. (Read more of Meghan McCain’s reaction here.)
Reihan Salam, co-author of Grand New Party and Daily Beast columnist Republicans should spend a great deal of time talking about energy. In the very near future, we're going to face a severe energy shortage, and the president's alternative-energy agenda won't move quickly enough to resolve it. There's a case for relaxing or at the very least expediting the review process for new power plants, particularly for nuclear power plants. And there's a pretty decent case for launching a crash government-funded program to build new power plants. This will offend environmentalists and free-market conservatives, but it might be the only way to stave off an even deeper economic crisis. As a wise man once told me, financial crises play to Democratic strengths. Energy crises play to Republican strengths—but only if the party is at the ready with an agenda.
But the next few months will be consumed by health care, and here Republicans need to make up for having played their hand very badly over the last few years. The right solution is a 50-state approach—let Massachusetts and Texas and Oregon solve the problem their own way by giving them more control over Medicare funds and perhaps even the tax subsidies used in their states. That won't happen. To counter Obama, Republicans need to craft a proposal that can peel away some congressional Democrats. That will probably be an approach that marries a Massachusetts-style Connector for the individual marketplace with a new tax subsidy for individual insurance. The tax subsidy for employer-based insurance would be retained only for current beneficiaries—it would be phased out over time. This isn't a silver bullet. But it might give Republicans some influence over the final outcome.
John Batchelor, host, The John Batchelor Show and Daily Beast columnist Now that Arlen Specter is gone, broomed from the party by the Stars-and-Bars clique in the Senate cloakroom and on nostalgic talk radio, what is the future? The bullish Democrats are a long way from peaking. First up is to consider that John McCain will go, not as a Democrat, but more likely as an independent, like Horace Greeley at the end—a seer and crackpot of the GOP who went out wildly as a Democratic candidate for president in 1872. Olympia Snowe of Maine may follow as a defector for 2012, though by then the results from the 2010 cycle will make Snowe an aftertaste. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, George Voinovich of Ohio, and Sam Brownback of Kansas are confirmed retirees. A strong rumor is that erratic Jim Bunning of Kentucky is done. Kit Bond in Missouri is hanging it up, and Charlie Crist in Florida is hardly a cocky candidate. The 178 House Republicans are less threatened, but then they start with such reduced numbers that a surge will leave them enfeebled as compared to inert. The much-mentioned Republican governors, led by Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Rick Perry of Texas, and Mark Sanford of South Carolina are the Three Stooges of the base problem that the Republican Party is a frisky Dixie fraternity. (Read more of John Batchelor’s reaction here.)
Margaret Hoover, television and radio commentator
Just when we thought it couldn't get any worse, Spector’s defection shuts Republicans out of government. The way to get back is not "rebranding". The party doesn't need a facelift, it needs a housecleaning. Another cycle of Congress will pass before the whitebeards who helped lose us our reputation as fiscal disciplinarians lose their leadership positions. (I’m looking at you, McConnell and Boehner.)
While in "exile," Republicans must think creatively about how to provide solutions for Americans that provide a competitive counterpoint to the Democrats. The country is best when it has two strong and dynamic, solutions-oriented parties, both offering ideas to address Americans’ concerns.
With health care, for example, Republicans must articulate a substantive plan that keeps the high quality of American health care while improving its affordability. We don't believe that creating a government bureaucracy to manage the health care industry–or ramming drastic changes through Congress in a reconciliation bill, as the Democrats intend–is in the best interest of Americans. We believe that allowing people to purchase health insurance across state lines will foster competition and lower prices—offering consumers more choices. But we need to build out that plan, and then sell it as a viable alternative.
Grover Norquist, president, Americans for Tax Reform Specter had to run as a Democrat because he couldn’t run as a Republican. Why couldn’t he? He’s been elected five or six times as a Republican, he’s always been pro-choice, he’s always been 50-50 on labor law and trial lawyers. What changed? What happened this time was he made an interesting decision that he would vote for the stimulus spending bill to show how reasonable and nonpartisan he was. I would have told you two years ago, 20 years ago, two months ago, that that would work.
But what changed, and this is what all Republicans are going to have to learn because it’s new, is that spending became a vote-moving issue. It has not been that before. They don’t call them spending revolts; they call them tax revolts. They take place when the taxes go up, but the taxes never go up in anticipation of spending. Spending usually goes up first.
I don’t think what you learn is whether we should or shouldn’t be primarying this sort of person or that sort of person. What we learn is there’s a new issue—there’s a new issue that can end your political career.
Steve Schmidt, McCain 2008 chief strategist Politics is cyclical. Republicans will return to power. The only question is how long the march back will be.