Thursday, November 20, 2008

Republicans are Soul Searching

With the elections over, the Democrats are celebrating and the Republicans begin the long recovery process. The Republicans haven't been in such a minority status since the 1970s. You remember how wonderful those days were. Recently I heard interviews with several Republican congressional leaders and you can hear the pain in their voices as they begin some serious soul searching.

The Democrats and mainstream media are full of advice for Republicans. They are arguing that the party failed because it isn't like the Democrats enough. It has failed to fully embrace big government, isn't socially tolerant enough, and hasn't made enough concessions to foreign adversaries. The reality is, John McCain advocated border "reform" that undermines our sovereignty, campaign finance reform that weakens the First Amendment, and simply didn't understand the role of tax cuts in generating revenue and prosperity (no, not Obamas welfare plan in the form of tax cuts, but actual wealth generating fiscal policy). I have a contrarian view from the media and Democrats, I believe the GOP didn't act Republican enough. There is no question the Republicans need to make some changes. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Restore the three legged stool. Ronald Reagan was the most successful Republican in modern history and his message was powerful but simple. He promoted traditional family values, economic freedom (less taxes and government), and a strong national defense. These themes -- often seen as "polarizing" by the mainstream media -- made the Republican Party the majority party through the 1980s and led to the restoration of its prominence in 1994 with the Contract with America led by Newt Gingrich. The GOP needs to restore these principles in its message.

  • Appeal to the rank and file. Although my main passion today is economics, I got interested in the Republican party while in high school for different reasons. I became a Christian at the age of 16 and believed that my faith should play a role in every aspect of my life. The Republicans were strongly pro-life and that was clearly the Christian worldview, in my opinion. The stronger the GOP was in that arena, the more involved I wanted to be. The softer those positions, the weaker my interest. It is the same with other positions. Strong defense, free markets, and limited government. The more passionate the GOP is, the more passionate that base will be.

  • The GOP needs to clean House (and Senate). Just this week the House elected new leadership and in a surprising move they kept John Boehner as Majority Leader. Until the final months of '08 Boehner had been the king of the "get along" gang and he went to extraordinary lengths to be accommodative with the liberal majority rather than represent the interest of Republicans. There was some good news at the House Republican Conference with conservative Mike Pence taking over that position. In his acceptance speech he indicated that he was going to do what he could to move the party back to its roots. Also, conservative Eric Cantor of Virginia becomes the new Minority Whip.

  • Republicans should build on its strengths. The one silver lining in this electoral disaster is that the vast majority of the Republicans who lost were moderates. I would rather have a smaller group of conservative Republicans in the Congress than a larger one dominated by moderates. These moderates who lost should send a firm message to other members of what doesn't work for Republicans. If the voters have a choice between Democrats and Republicans who act like Democrats, they will always choose the former. We need real Republicans and need to promote a conservative agenda in Congress.

  • The new GOP chairman needs to be a true conservative. There is a great deal of discussion about Michael Steele (former Lt. Governor of Maryland) running for the party's top post. Steele is treated as a serious conservative by the mainstream media. The reality is that Steele is eloquent and smart and very conservative by Maryland standards (I know, I lived there before). We need someone who is conservative by every standard. I love having someone like Steele on our side, but I would like to see a chairman who believes recruiting conservatives to run for office is a top priority. I am concerned that Steele won't share that objective.

  • Efforts should be made towards ending open primaries that allow independents vote for candidates in the winter and spring whom they will vote against in November. If you had to be a Republican to vote in the New Hampshire primary, it is highly unlikely that McCain would have been the Republican nominee. We would have had a true conservative which would have improved our odds.

This list is just a beginning. The GOP needs to do an inventory of what works and what does not work and I am sure the latter would be quite long. The single most important thing it should do is be highly selective of where it gets its advice and should simply choose to ignore the opinions of the mainstream media and the Democrats, which both want the Republican party to stay the minority.

Kevin Price is a syndicated columnist whose articles frequently appear at ChicagoSunTimes.com, Reuters.com, USAToday.com, and other national media.

Kevin Price is Host of the Price of Business (M-F at 11 AM on CNN 650) and Publisher of the Houston Business Review. Hear the show live and online at PriceofBusiness.com. Visit the archive of past shows here.

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