Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Reflections on the GOP Losses

While Democrats get to cheer and gloat over their victories and the historic win of President-elect Barack Obama, the Republican party has to begin some serious and thoughtful soul-searching.

Some folks will point out that the Obama campaign used a tremendous advantage of the media and ground game. Some will even point out the incredible amount of money Obama spent to win the Presidency. Those are fair points, but they do not address why Obama's empty slogans of hope and change won over a majority of Americans.

How did John McCain come so close and yet fail so miserably? How did Republicans, who were supposed to be the party of fiscal responsibility deviate so far from that core message?

It comes down to economics.

Obama was able to paint McCain as McSame - the same kind of economic policies that have led to the current financial troubles and the toxic paper meltdown. That isn't fair to McCain, but McCain didn't do himself any favors by pushing for the bailout either. Polls generally showed a very close election up until the point when McCain suggested he might opt out of the second debate because of the financial crisis. Obama was able to claim the mantle of reformer, a title that Republicans had held since Reagan was swept into office in 1980.

At that point, it became inevitable that Obama could point out that McCain was pursuing the same policy as the Bush economic plan (even though Democrats were pushing for it in Congress and needed McCain and the House GOP to provide cover).

Pushing for a bailout of companies that made bad business decisions (even if those decisions were forced on them by the government intent upon increasing the number of affordable homes and increased homeownership rates in minority communities) was a stupendously bad idea.

Of course, we're now going to hear claims how the economy is in dire straits and that we need still more bailouts - this time focused on individuals rather than the banks that are still reeling from those bad business decisions.

In the hope for a quick panacea, the Republicans, and the Bush Administration threw fiscal responsibility out the window. It cost them. It will continue to cost them, and the rest of us dearly for years to come.

So, how does the Republican party fix itself?

For starters, it begins with focusing on two areas. The economy and national defense.

The economy:

Republicans must renew their pledge for fiscal austerity and responsibility. They must work to eliminate earmarks, fight new entitlements that are little more than government issued Ponzi schemes, and fight to scale back existing failed entitlement programs. They must hold the line on taxes, demanding that tax hikes be taken off the table indefinitely - and to frame the issue of the 2010 Bush tax cut phase out as the tax hike it truly is. Letting those cuts expire will result in massive tax increases, and there's no way around that. Say it early. Say it often.

National Security:
As for national security, Republicans must hold the line on defense spending, which is still at near historical lows as measured by a percentage of GNP/GDP. The government's core mission is to protect and defend the nation from foreign threats, and harsh language or the UN are not going to deter enemies that seek to do us harm, let alone terrorists who openly ignore and flout international norms and conventions.

A hasty departure from Iraq will increase the likelihood of disaster there, even as we're witnessing a stabilization and handover of Iraqi back to the Iraqi government. Republicans must work to ensure that we do not cut off funding to support Iraq, or else we'll see a repeat of Vietnam following our departure in 1973. It took two years, but Democrats finally cut funding, resulting in the disastrous collapse of the South Vietnamese government and ensuing bloodbath.

Republicans must also guard against any attempts to cut funding for the war in Afghanistan, which includes a hunting compact with Pakistan's government to go after Islamists there. The terrorists simply cannot be bargained with.

Democrats did a masterful job of painting the notion that the war in Iraq took money that could be used elsewhere - entitlements or programs back home, but that's a misleading notion at best.

From there, Republicans can focus on a third area: ground game and the future.
Republicans need to cultivate a new generation of leaders who can take their message into longtime Democrat strongholds and have them resonate with moderates, independents, and even old-time Reagan Democrats. Far too many states have been conceded to the Democrats for far too long that you've got a sclerotic political system that amounts to one-party rule. That means contesting elections up and down the ballot - from town alderman up to statewide offices.

It doesn't mean that you throw millionaire after millionaire against established politicians in the hopes that they catch lightning in a bottle, which is the New Jersey experience. It takes a message. It take hard work, and it takes the development of a farm system in which talented people are cultivated to work through the ranks to seek higher office.

If the Republicans want to turn things around, they have to start today.

Michelle Malkin has some advice to dispirited GOPers. AJ Strata notes the need for an optimistic outlook. I'd counsel pragmatism. Ragnar says that conservatives cannot take a break now.

Don Surber says the GOP needs to get back to its roots.

Macranger thinks that the problems are just beginning for the media and the Obama Administration. All those lofty expectations are going to come crashing down with the reality that they are out of sync with what most Americans expected.

One thing I don't expect is to see a demonization of Obama along the lines of what the left did to President Bush. I, for one, respect the Office of the White House too much to let that happen. Obama's politics are fair game, his personal connections are fair game, but attacks on him personally aren't. I fault his character and judgment, and I hope I'm wrong about that - for our nation's sake.

Others weighing in include Sister Toldjah and Stop the ACLU has a roundup of reaction.

The Anchoress has a great posting on the matter, and on the subject of respect towards the outgoing President, George W. Bush.

Jules Crittenden notes that American is still here, and that the challenges of yesterday remain challenges today. What is different is the approach that Obama intends to take.

Two sides of the same coin. David Frum notes two paths for the GOP to take. One involves following the Palin route, and that might result in some wins, but a long term losing strategy as a result of changing demographics and economic positions of core constituencies, or adjusting the tone and tenor of the debate back to the core issues of fiscal responsibility. Jeff Flake goes deeper into this, and addresses many of the concerns I've had with the national spending spree for years.

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