Republicans: Is there a path back to power?

With about only 23 percent of Americans now identifying themselves as Republicans, the GOP has begun a painful internal debate over how to return to popularity and power.

If Republicans aren’t careful, said Ronald Brownstein in National Journal, they could end up about “as relevant as Whigs.” Last week’s defection of Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania to the Democrats, which has brought that party tantalizingly close to a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority, sharply underscored the increasing “contraction and powerlessness” of the GOP. With about only 23 percent of Americans now identifying themselves as Republicans—the lowest level in 25 years—the GOP has begun a painful internal debate over how to return to popularity and power. Some Republicans are arguing that they must moderate, or at least play down, their small-government, pro-life, anti-gay marriage messages, said Adam Nagourney in The New York Times. But others would prefer to let renegades like Specter go, blaming centrists such as Specter, John McCain, and even “compassionate conservative” George W. Bush for muddying the conservative message and ruining the Republican brand. “I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people,” declared Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, “than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.”

If the GOP wants to commit political suicide, said Bob Herbert, also in the Times, then it should follow that “incredibly clueless” blueprint. Conservatives were in charge of the White House for eight years and Congress for six, and the result was tax cuts for the rich, huge deficits, a disastrous war in Iraq, torture, and a financial meltdown. Now, with the economy in a deep recession, reactionaries like Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin continue to spout “gibberish about smaller government, lower taxes, and spending cuts.” This isn’t a party. “It’s a cult.” And that cult is shrinking, said Dick Polman in The Philadelphia Inquirer. By most measures, the GOP’s “durable advantage” has been reduced to about 10 “red” states, in the South, rural Midwest, and Rocky Mountain region. To survive, the party needs new, moderate voices, and fast.

Thanks for the advice, but we’ll pass, said Jonah Goldberg in USA Today. The charge that the GOP has become “too right-wing, too obsessed with social issues” doesn’t hold up. George W. Bush’s failures were caused not by gay marriage and stem-cell research but by the economy, Iraq, and Hurricane Katrina. Ronald Reagan, a true conservative, was wildly popular not despite but because of his belief in small government, tax cuts, and old-fashioned values. “The real answer for the GOP isn’t to narrow the difference between the parties but to heighten them.”

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.

SUBSCRIBE & SAVE
https://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/flexiimages/jacafc5zvs1692883516.jpg

Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

That’s true only up to a point, said Noemie Emery in The Weekly Standard. Yes, conservatism is a movement and a principled set of ideas, but “if it is to be anything more than a really interesting reading group,” it must yoke itself to a party. And to win elections, the Republican Party must have room for Northern defense hawks who are pro-life, Southern social conservatives, blue-collar workers from the Northeast and Midwest, and country-club bankers. Ronald Reagan instinctively knew that, which is why he won elections. Reagan, though, isn’t coming back, said Ross Douthat in TheNewyorktimes.com, so what we need are new leaders who can take core principles and reinvent conservatism, the way Bill Clinton strategically reinvented liberalism with a mind to winning elections. If it is to be reborn as a viable alternative, the GOP “can’t sound like Rush Limbaugh—but it can’t sound like Arlen Specter, either.”

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us