November 16, 2008
GOP Moving Forward Potpourri - UPDATED

Reading on next steps for Republicans, at least at the national level, has been occupying a notable chunk of my personal time lately...well, that and a fervent job search.

Accordingly, some notables from that effort (the reading, not the job hunt):

1) Michael Gerson on Bush 43:

Initial failures in Iraq acted like a solar eclipse, blocking the light on every other achievement. But those achievements, with the eclipse finally passing, are considerable by the measure of any presidency. Because of the passage of Medicare Part D, nearly 10 million low-income seniors are receiving prescription drugs at little or no cost. No Child Left Behind education reform has helped raise the average reading scores of fourth-graders to their highest level in 15 years and narrowed the achievement gap between white and African American children. The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has helped provide treatment for more than 1.7 million people and compassionate care for at least 2.7 million orphans and vulnerable children. And the decision to pursue the surge in Iraq will be studied as a model of presidential leadership.

These achievements, it is true, have limited constituencies to praise them. Many conservatives view Medicare, education reform and foreign assistance as heresies. Many liberals refuse to concede Bush's humanity, much less his achievements.

A discussion of what went wrong and what went right under the tenure of George W. Bush is inevitable and right. A starting point with appropriate perspective would be wise, however.

2) Former Governor Jeb Bush speaking to Jonathan Martin:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said the party should take four primary steps: show no tolerance for corruption, practice what it preaches about limiting the scope of government ("There should not be such a thing as a Big-Government Republican"), stand for working families and small business, and embrace reform.

"I hope there is a strong focus on recruiting candidates for governor as a top priority for 2010," said Bush. "A reform conservative agenda can be shown at the state level regarding education, health care and environmental policy while the liberals advocate the status quo, just more of it, in Washington, D.C."

Translation: don't be a dumb ass...and while you're at it, make sure you're talking about issues voters care about.

3) Rich Lowry on the beating some Republican candidates took amongst the middles class:

Obama won the Democratic turf of the inner suburbs and expanded his reach out into the Republican exurbs. In Northern Virginia, he won not just Fairfax County, as Kerry had, but the further outlying counties of Prince William and Loudon. In Pennsylvania, Obama got killed in the steel towns, but more than made up for it in the once-Republican suburbs outside Philadelphia. According to the Washington Post, Obama improved over Kerry's showing in the suburbs of Indiana and North Carolina by 20 points.


It's possible to make too much of this. In national elections, the winner usually picks up among all groups -- Bush did it in 2004. But there's no doubt that Obama, like a good chess player, dominated the middle of the board. He did it by beating McCain by 9 points among the 63 percent of voters saying the economy was the most important issue for them.

Touting his tax cut for "95 percent of working people," Obama captured the middle class, broadly defined. He beat McCain 55 percent to 43 percent among voters making $30,000-$50,000 a year. He lost by 1 point among voters making $50,000-$75,000. And he won voters making $75,000-$100,000 by 3 points. Kerry, in contrast, won voters making $30,000-$50,000 by a point and got wiped out in the other brackets.

Sure, some of numbers Lowry details are a function of a unique combination of a major housing downturn coupled with a painful financial sector meltdown (complete with serious drubbings to 401(k) accounts). Nevertheless, Obama's victory margin amongst the middle class should not be ignored.

4) Ross Douthat on the inevitable intra-party "discussions" that occur in the wake of such election defeats:

In the wake of Barack Obama's victory, this will be the pattern of conservative commentary for months and perhaps years to come. Foreign-policy realists will insist neoconservatism doomed the Bush administration to failure. Anti-immigration activists will claim that the Republican Party would have beaten Obama if only it had nominated somebody who actually opposed illegal immigration, instead of just pretending. Small-government conservatives will claim that if the Bush administration had only held the line on domestic spending, everything would have turned out differently. The dwindling band of Rockefeller Republicans will blame the whole thing on social conservatives for being too strident about abortion and gay marriage and turning off moderates; social conservatives, for their part, will argue that John McCain didn't talk enough about abortion and gay marriage. And so on.

I have my own dog in a number of these fights, but it's important to point out that nearly every faction will be able to score some points and lay some blame: A pair of defeats as resounding as '06 and '08 have a thousand fathers, no matter how much every right-winger would like to assign paternity to someone else. Which means that the best thing, by far, for the American right would be for every sect within the conservative temple to spend some time in self-examination before it turns to flinging blame.

True. No branch of the conservative movement or the Republican Party can consider itself blame free.

5) Douthat again, this time on the path forward:

A party that restores its reputation for competence and policy seriousness, as the Republicans desperately need to do, will win back voters across the income and educational spectrum, no matter what specific positions it takes. But insofar as there's a choice to be made, I think building a coalition of social conservatives and social moderates from the middle of the income and education distribution makes much more political sense than trying to hold together a coalition of social conservatives from the middle of the distribution and social liberals from the upper end. Joe the Plumber and Joe the Office-Park Employee make much more plausible political bedfellows than Joe the Plumber and Joseph the Hedge Fund Guy. Moreover, I think a conservatism that's primarily oriented around the interests of the first pair of Joes is the better choice for America as well - because these are voters who face the most significant socioeconomic challenges in the current landscape, and who most deserve a government, and a right-of-center politics, that looks out for their interests.

Shorter: middle America is still where the action is at for winning hearts and minds in politics, no matter how much discussion there is about affluent voters who went for Obama this year.

6) Ramesh Ponnuru on actually seizing the ground that Douthat - and for that matter Lowry - is discussing:

The way to court these moderates is not to abandon social conservatism, which would alienate many of the voters Republicans still have. The party needs to "move to the middle" less than it needs to move to the middle class: to go back to representing the interests of voters in the middle of the income spectrum.

John McCain and movement conservatives, so often at odds, have been complicit in neglecting these voters. He somehow believed that he could win a presidential election without a coherent middle-class economic agenda, and conservatives never thought to demand one from him.

Bingo. For a brief summation on how to remedy this, refer to Jeb Bush's comments above.

7) Addendum to the point above, Rich Lowry on how "The Right Needs to Get Centered":

One temptation will be to say that if only Republicans had stayed truer to the faith, especially on fiscal discipline, none of this would have happened. Earmarks unquestionably contributed to the culture of corruption that has so bedeviled Republicans in recent years. But fighting them became an overriding obsession of some conservatives and of McCain, as if opposing earmarks alone -- 1 percent of federal spending -- would constitute a winning economic agenda.


The party obviously can't allow Democrats to wear the mantle of fiscal responsibility, but limiting government alone won't be enough for Republicans to connect on domestic issues.

Yes! Fiscal responsiblity is one thing. Economic conservative in particular like to harp on this as one of the downfalls of Inside the Beltway Republicans of recent years. True. But, conservative still need an agenda that connects to the middle class in a way that hasn't existed with adequate coherence and depth in recent election cycles. The rhetorical emphasis in recent months of Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty, and to some degree a post-election Sarah Palin, on this score does offer hope. And Lowry himself gets to the point later in the linked op-ed feature:

Connecting better on the economy and middle-class pocketbook and quality-of-life issues will go a long way toward alleviating the troubles the GOP had in reaching moderates, suburbanites and even Latinos this year. It will require refreshing the conservative policy arsenal with innovative proposals that will look more like McCain's health-care plan than the old tried and true, and it will mean engaging on concerns such as congestion and college tuition that have traditionally been beneath conservative notice.

Meaning, again, conservatives need to do a better job of adapting to the issues actually on the minds of swing voters. Future agendas need to apply conservative answers to those challenges, not re-hash the issues of elections gone by.

8) While not a be all and end all example, the below clip of Bobby Jindal does a nice job of condensing a number of thoughts above and projecting forward the kind of leadership needed with conservative and Republican ranks:

Notable in the clip was Jindal rejecting the "reformers v. traditionalists" paradigm (already chided by pudge below on the main page). Patrick Ruffini has more on Tim Pawlenty joining Jindal in that position, and further talk related to the subject of this post.

UPDATE: Karl Rove is also in the camp rejecting the "reformers v. traditionalists" idea. That two camps have to be united.

He also touts some young bucks that have been mentioned at this blog - including our own Cathy McMorris Rodgers - as necessary spokespeople for the party in coming months. Amen.

Posted by Eric Earling at November 16, 2008 06:18 PM | Email This
1. Focusing on messages before the infrastructure and competency are restored is a colossal waste of time and brain cells.

Campaign competency is the key, and that includes targeting the areas where the GOP is weakest (Minority Outreach and recruiting) or the message will never resonate.

And failing to address those issues won't make them go away.

Posted by: Hinton on November 16, 2008 06:32 PM
2. The GOP should not give up on blacks (even with the current POTUS), nor Hispanics - which they seemed to do lately. They can stay away from LaRaza though. Also, stop trying to drive away the intellectual elites - that will take some strategizing to pull off. That is a big reason why New England has no more Republicans in Congress after this election.

As Dick Morris says, a 527 group like on the right is a necessary tool that will be need to gather money to promote the message. A ground level internet funding campaign modeled after Obama's added with some innovations are what is need to be competitive in the future.

Posted by: KS on November 16, 2008 06:40 PM
3. IMO Jindal didn't just do a ''nice job'', he did a GREAT job: I respectfully suggest that all who care about getting the (R) party back to a position to win future elections should take the time to view this entire video.

Listening to Jindal one thing jumped out at me:
Just like ''It's the economy, stupid'' going all the way back to James Carville and the 1992 election that Clinton won, one summary of what Jindal said in those few minutes in that clip could be:
''It's the actual results and not just the rhetoric, stupid''.

... and along those lines it sounds like Jindal may have pulled off something that many people would have thought impossible:
He mentioned that Louisiana is now at or near the top of the ''public integrity'' rankings by whatever indepedent group was doing that. Remembering the long and pervasively corrupt history of LA politics going all the way back thru Gov. Huey Long and before, that has to qualify as one of the great turn-around feats of all time.

In addition to Jindal, here's my off-the-wall thought on another potential star; WRT people who could move into the front ranks in (R) national politics:
It probably depends a lot on what happens both to the economy over here and the results in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 2-3 years, but:
How about General David Petraeus, who surely has to qualify as one of the best and smartest senior field commanders we have had in a long time.... of course I have no idea if he is or might be interested in national politics a couple years down the road....

Posted by: Methow Ken on November 16, 2008 06:55 PM
4. No argument from me that Jindal did a great job. What particularly jumped out at me is that, no matter how many times the interviewer tried to rephrase the question, Jindal would not be baited into bashing Gov. Palin.

This tells me that either (a) he's not constitutionally a backstabber or (b) he's extraordinarily disciplined and focused or (c) both. He definitely merits further consideration.

Posted by: Paula on November 16, 2008 07:43 PM
5. Ditto to what Jindal so eloquently stated!!

Lets fix problems and reform government, not run people off stage who disagree with us on one social issue.

Results matter, people are not stupid (except in WA state) if you run as the party of effective governance and all they have seen for 10 years is corruption, greed and a bloated government, they aren't going to vote for your party.

I also agree with Jeb Bush, R's need to focus on governor races. Future presidents, generally, come from the governor ranks and by having quality governors, they will set themselves up for 2012 and beyond.

Posted by: jk on November 16, 2008 07:44 PM
6. The middle class will soon wake up and realize that Obama's tax cut promise ain't coming. Obama's laundry list of big government dreams will require funding that the rich, especially in a contracting economy, won't be funding without the help of the middle class.

But that was always the problem with the Obama voter, they voted based on the emotion of promises by repressing their rational minds which told them that all of the promises were probably never going to come true.

Posted by: Jeff B. on November 16, 2008 08:12 PM
7. #6: If much of the Obama voters were like the ones Howard Stern found---they had NO CLUE WHATSOEVER what Obama stood for---then it wasn't just about repressing rational minds, it was often just about having no mind in particular about the issues at all.

Posted by: Michele on November 16, 2008 11:21 PM
8. Sorry, but I'm of the opinion we need to go back to the conservative values that have always been our herald. We tried with conservative-lites, aka, McCain, Romney et al.

I wholeheartedly agree with what I read tonite: The Republicans Don't Need a New Message; They Need New Messengers

The problem turned out to be the conservative-lite we put forth was far more liberal than the ideas the liberal guy ran (and won!) on. He took the cut taxes meme and made it his own, even knowing that WE knew he has absolutely no means or intention of keeping that promise.

I think the toddler president is an intellectual guy who ran a great and clever campaign that presented a "void filler".

It worked.

However, I also think he promised far more than he can possibly deliver and I think no matter how intellectual he is, it matters not if he can't or won't make important decisions. Everything in his past indicates he dithers or abdicates on important issues. He's either going to change his stripes PDQ or be exposed as the inexperienced, naive ingenue he is. I'm predicting the latter.

I am in the Michael Steele camp. I always have been. If you remember correctly months and months ago he was on my short list for VP favs.

Conservatism has principles that the current elected members have strayed from. They need to get their butts kicked into shape or kicked out BY US.

America hungers for a leader. Mainstream America is desperate for the values that they know work to be implemented and lived, without compromise.

We have leaders that do that: Gingrich, Palin, Steele, Jindal, Blackwell, perhaps Jane Swift (I don't know enough about her), Pawlenty, Santorum, Kasich and yes even Jeb Bush.

Posted by: Ragnar Danneskjold on November 17, 2008 12:01 AM
9. Pawlenty threw a hissy fit at the latest Republican Governor's Conference when Palin gave a press conference. After it was setup, some genius wanted to show unanimity, so a handful of governors provided the background. That appeared to be too much for Pawlenty who also wants 2012. He went into a hissy fit according to reports. No thanks.

Jindal had a bunch of time on Hugh Hewitt podcast the other day. He rambled, brambled and ambled on for a long time like an auctioneer. After he was done, I realized he never said anything. In fact, he gave a case study of something or another as outlining how the Rs can win, but that case study was missing what he was going to do to improve things.

In other words, he is not a 'paragraph' man. He is a one-liner man and bereft of solutions. But yet, we have elected a President just like that.

I doubt we will want another Obama. By the time 2012 rolls around, we will be yearning for a graybeard.

Posted by: swatter on November 17, 2008 07:25 AM
10. "I doubt we will want another Obama. By the time 2012 rolls around, we will be yearning for a graybeard."


Posted by: Hinton on November 17, 2008 08:07 AM
11. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said the party should take four primary steps: show no tolerance for corruption, practice what it preaches about limiting the scope of government ("There should not be such a thing as a Big-Government Republican"), stand for working families and small business, and embrace reform.

Forever and ever, Amen. It's a simple formula, it has always worked, and it will work again.

Posted by: pudge on November 17, 2008 08:35 AM
12. Eric: You should apply for a job with Sound Transit. It has lots of openings because of the passage of Prop. 1.

Posted by: slug on November 17, 2008 08:40 AM
13. Insider trading? QFT = what? QED= the answer

Posted by: swatter on November 17, 2008 10:00 AM
14. Did Jeb Bush practice what he's preaching in Florida? Just out of curiosity.

Posted by: Paula on November 17, 2008 10:19 AM
15. Social Conservatives as Scapegoats

This scapegoating of the solid and most loyal of the three wings of the Reaganite coalition is inaccurate and just plain wrong. It is self-defeating in the long run. It is rank blame-shifting and a libel of a GOP constituency which has always supported low taxes, a strong defense and a constrained judiciary. All it asked for was fair consideration of its concerns with family and the culture of life.

If economic or business conservatives thinks they can win Midwestern, western, Southern and border states without Evangelicals, Southern Baptists, culturally conservative Catholics and advocates for the nuclear family as the first of all social institutions, they are kidding themselves. President Gerald Ford's primary victory over Ronald Reagan in 1976 was the last gasp of that worldview. You do not find many political volunteers, or voters, at the Union League or Bogey Clubs.

Political success is about addition, not subtraction.

Posted by: Ragnar Danneskjold on November 17, 2008 11:17 AM
16. QFT = "quoted for truth", if you're not current on your Internets lingo.

Posted by: brent on November 17, 2008 12:36 PM
17. I agree with the four items Jeb stated, but Republicans also need a good messenger to get them across. Jindal could be that person.

Obama, like him or not, was an excellent campaigner. He's not even President yet, and his public press conferences and appearances already feel like he's still campaigning. I expect alot more of that over the next 4 years. You'll hate his actions and his policy, and he'll find a way to communicate it and sell it to alot of people. He's good at it.

I couldn't help but notice how many times Obama said we need to make X affordable for all Americans, where X = things people want (health care, education, energy, etc) during the campaign. He never fully explained how he would accomplish this, and most people it seems didn't care. They only thought about they wanted those things too. As stated previously, it was an emotional, not practical, connection on these issues.

Republicans have to explain and make people understand that government cannot make anything more affordable. They can only confiscate wealth from someone and give it someone else to accomplish this. Or they can institute price controls, which many Democrats favor with prescription drugs, and alot of people buy into that without thinking of the consequences. Republicans have to explain why Democrat ideas won't work, not just shout socialism.

Posted by: Palouse on November 17, 2008 02:44 PM
18. So, Palouse, sounds like you are agreeing with my opinion on Jindal? Another Obama type/hype?

In 2012, it won't be the same players as today, or more likely, the same players with have their rhetoric fit the moment after 2-3 years of Obama.

Posted by: swatter on November 17, 2008 03:16 PM
19. I don't know enough about Jindal to make that determination Swatter. He does already have more leadership experience than Obama did going into the job. He might be a good communicator of ideas too by the time 2012 comes around. We'll see.

Posted by: Palouse on November 17, 2008 03:46 PM
20. The GOP is lost if it does not return to two principles...

1. Limited government (and by this I mean actually decreasing the size of government year after year until it is small again).
2. Nominating politicians that do what they say. By this I mean it is useless to elect someone who promises 1 if they do not vote accordingly once elected.

Will Jindal give us either? I do not know much about him yet but my guess is no since most people that praise him despise Dr. Paul (one of the few republicans on the national scene that has given us both 1 & 2.

Posted by: Lysander on November 17, 2008 07:24 PM
21. This is an article from the Denver Post titled How the GOP lost my vote by a Paul Hsieh:

After a resounding electoral defeat, in which voters in this once-red state rejected Republicans McCain, Schaffer, and Musgrave, the Colorado Republican Party will undoubtedly be asking themselves, "Why did we lose?"

I want to let them know that they lost the vote of many former supporters (including myself) because they have chosen to embrace the Religious Right.

I voted Republican in 1996, 2000, and 2004. I believe in limited government, individual rights, free market capitalism, a strong national defense, and the right to keep and bear arms - positions that one normally associates with Republicans.

But I didn't vote for a single Republican in 2008. I've become increasingly alienated by the Republicans" embrace of the religious "social conservative" agenda, including attempts to ban abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and gay marriage.

The Founding Fathers correctly recognized that the proper function of government is to protect individual rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. But freedom of religion also implies freedom *from* religion. As Thomas Jefferson famously put it, there should be a "wall of separation" between church and state. Public policy should not be based on religious doctrines.

Instead, the government's role is to protect each person's right to practice his or her religion as a private matter and to forbid them from forcibly imposing their particular views on others. And this is precisely why I find the Republican Party's embrace of the Religious Right so dangerous.

If a woman chooses not to have an abortion for reasons of personal faith, then I completely respect her right to do so. But she cannot impose her particular religious views on others. Other women must have the same right to decide that deeply personal issue for themselves.

The Religious Right's goal of outlawing abortions would violate that important right, and sacrifice the lives of actual women for clumps of cells that are only potential (but not yet actual) human beings, based on religious dogma. As a physician, I find that position abhorrent and deeply anti-life.

In his October 24, 2008 radio broadcast, Rush Limbaugh told pro-choice secular supporters of limited government such as myself that we should leave the Republican Party. Many of us have already taken his advice and changed our affiliation to "independent."

The Republican Party stands at an important crossroads. The Republican Party could choose to follow the principles of the American Founding Fathers and promote a limited government that protected individual rights but otherwise left people alone to live their lives.

This includes affirming the principle of the separation of church and state. If they did so, I would happily support it.

Or the Republican Party could instead choose to become the party of the Religious Right and seek to forcibly impose the religious values of one particular constituency over others (thus violating everyone else's rights).

In that case, it will continue to alienate many voters and lose elections -- and deservedly so.

Even though I no longer regard myself as a Republican, I definitely regard myself as a loyal American.

My parents immigrated legally from Taiwan to America over 40 years ago. They had very little money, but they worked hard, sent two children to college and medical school, and are now enjoying a well-earned and comfortable retirement.

Their life has been a real-life embodiment of the American dream. America is a beacon of hope to millions of people around the world precisely because our system of government allows honest, hard-working people to prosper and thrive.

Our system is a testament to the genius of the Founding Fathers, who recognized that the proper function of government is to protect individual rights, such as our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Hence, I believe the Republican Party should choose the first path - the path of limited government, separation of church and state, and protection of individual rights.

This is the America that brought my parents from a ocean away in hopes of a better life for themselves and their children. This is the America I want to live in. And this is the America I want the Republican Party to stand for.

Posted by: Bill K. on November 17, 2008 10:25 PM
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