Election 2008

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GOP Looks Ahead in Light of Defeats

November 05, 2008 09:50 AM
by Christopher Coats
Facing minorities in both houses of Congress and a loss of the White House, the Republican Party is looking beyond 2008, though which path they follow from here remains uncertain.
Beginning months before Election Day, leading figures within the GOP began expressing doubt about the current state of their party, with some arguing they had abandoned their core conservative platform under George W. Bush, while others insisted the party had not adequately broadened its base by appealing to non-traditional voters.

In addition to Barack Obama's victory, Election Day saw the Republican Party lose strength in the House of Representatives, 254-174, as well as in the Senate, 56-41, where four races are yet to be decided.

Already stressed by the selection of John McCain as the party nominee for president—some felt he was not conservative enough—the GOP was further strained by his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Although initially popular within the party, Palin’s place on the ticket soon alienated a number of prominent moderate conservatives, including George Will, David Brooks and former McCain campaign advisor Michael Murphy.

Most notably, in his endorsement of Barack Obama, Republican Gen. Colin Powell cited Palin’s selection as one of the most damning arguments against McCain.

Further, as McCain’s poll numbers declined following the passage of a bailout plan for Wall Street, a “circular firing squad” emerged in an attempt to assign blame.

As the tension surrounding McCain’s choice spilled onto the pages of newspapers and blogs, a split within the party also became clear, with various prominent members struggling to define their party’s new direction. 

The Telegraph described the split as similar to the divide that tended to define the Democratic Party during the primary season—a GOP version of “Barack Obama's ‘latte liberals’ and Hillary Clinton's heartland supporters.”

Analysis: A question of priorities

Beyond election season tension, the Republican Party appears to be facing a split based more on priorities than ideological differences.

Arguing that the GOP must widen its reach by re-evaluating some of its core issues, conservative writer and former speechwriter for George W. Bush, David Frum, has stated that unless Republicans pay more attention to widening economic inequality in America, the party is doomed to fail.

“We must develop a positive agenda that integrates the right kind of egalitarianism with our conservative principles of liberty,” he wrote in The New York Times in September. “If we neglect this task and this opportunity, we won’t lose just the northern Virginia suburbs. We will lose America.”

Representing a more moderate voice of the party, Frum joins the likes of Powell in calling for a bigger tent approach to policy and politics.

Meanwhile, social conservatives have pushed for a more concentrated approach to issues such as abortion, gay marriage and illegal immigration, which they feel have been sidelined under a Bush administration and not adequately addressed by McCain.

Key Figures: The next battle – GOP leadership

Both sides seem poised to mount an offense for what may be the clearest indicator of who the GOP is over the next decade: the selection of the new head of the Republican National Committee.

Regardless of whether McCain emerges victorious, the Los Angles Times reports that social conservatives are fighting to avoid the Arizona senator’s hand in the selection process—a task that has traditionally fallen to the head of the party.

Echoing that frustration is South Carolina Party Chairman Katon Dawson, who will hold a gathering of GOP leaders in Myrtle Beach following the election to help guide the Republican Party toward a more assertive position on what he sees as key issues.

“Moderating our party is what caused us to lose power,” he told the LA Times, adding that the party must speak more forcefully against excessive government spending and illegal immigration.

Representing a broader approach to the party, Maryland’s African-American former attorney general Michael Steele will host a similar gathering in Palm Beach, Fla., ahead of the party’s national gathering in January when the chairman will be selected.

While the leadership debate continues, the party’s public image could soon change as well, with some hoping that notable figures from the 2008 election will emerge as the new face and voice of the modern GOP.

In addition to Mick Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Florida’s Charlie Crist, many are looking to Sarah Palin to be a new, decidedly more conservative leader of the party, no matter who emerges from Election Day with the most electoral votes.

Opinion: A bigger tent to succeed

Looking beyond Election Day, the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel suggests that the Republican Party will not succeed if they follow the lead of the British Tories after their loss to Tony Blair’s Labour Party in the late 1990s when they became decidedly defensive and the Party of No.

Instead, Strassel suggests, the GOP should open its arms to groups she feels should gravitate toward traditional Republican principals, and stress innovation and ideological evolution rather than focusing on the past.

Writing in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Nafees A. Syed took the future of GOP outreach a step further by noting the general absence of minorities at the party’s national convention, and suggesting Republicans extend a branch to such groups, especially Muslims.

Citing widespread Muslim support for George W. Bush in 2000, Syed appealed to the party to tone down the inflammatory “good and evil” philosophy she witnessed at the convention, and broaden their base by reaching out to a “growing and politically active community.”

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