- Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 April 2009 17:11
- Published on Wednesday, 22 April 2009 17:11
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Losing an election is always tough on a political party. There is the sudden stab of defeat at the polls, followed by watching your opponents take on the trappings of power, and finally the recognition that you no longer are the ones making policy.
However, what follows that can seem even worse. And that’s the realization that at least for the time being no one even wants to listen to your opinion. This, rather sadly, is the state of the Republican Party at the moment. They are still a prominent national party, still have a sizable number of congressmen, senators and governors and could very well come riding back in full force in 2012.
But for the moment, with the Democrats grabbing all the headlines, and setting the agenda, they’re left, mostly talking to themselves.
This is proving to be a hard transition for the GOP to make. With the exception of a short two-year period after Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 and when the Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, the Republicans, have, since 1980 controlled either the White House or the Congress or both.
Now, they’re in the unfamiliar position of being on the outside looking in. However, while that’s difficult enough, what’s worse is figuring out a way to get the public to pay attention to you. The Democrats have President Obama. He is in the limelight all the time. As for the Democrats in Congress, since they have the majority they get a lot of attention as well. As for GOP, with no national campaign to rally around, their only rallying points are their leaders in Congress, some out-of-office former legislators, and the prospective nominees for 2012. None of this makes for compelling reading.
However, perhaps their biggest challenge is on the idea front. True, with the exception of Fox television, it may be hard to get much attention at the moment, but, it’s more than that.
The real problem is that the party is having a tough time coming up with anything new to say. This is going to matter more than they realize. The GOP will have a shot at taking control of Congress in 2010. But, at the moment, the only thing they have to offer is that they have opposed, rather uniformly, just about all of the President’s programs.
They may be making some good points, particularly about spending, but with the country facing some deep problems, they need to do more than crow about how they managed to cast almost all no votes on the stimulus package.
To someone who just lost their job, is afraid of losing their house, or worried about the state of the nation’s healthcare, that just doesn’t do it.
Interestingly enough, at one time, it was the GOP that was claiming to have the new ideas. The entire Republican revolution, starting with Ronald Reagan, and carrying on through the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994, was based on an entirely new political agenda. They were running against something, yes, but they were also offering up their own set of ideas.
These included reducing the role of government, deregulation, and greater reliance on free market solutions to national issues. For almost three decades it was the Republicans who successfully made the argument that they were the party of ideas.
Now, things have shifted. The Democrats, offering an entirely new approach to government, one that’s activist in character, are the ones claiming the high ground when it comes to new ideas. Some people may not like their ideas, but at the moment, the other side isn’t offering much when it comes to alternatives.
But that doesn’t mean the Republicans aren’t trying.
There is some movement, gradual at the moment, towards reenergizing the Republican Party’s idea machine. Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor, the House Whip who engineered the GOP’s unanimous “no” vote against the stimulus, started his own idea website. It’s not that original, it doesn’t address many of the larger issues, but at least it’s a start. Trying to focus the Republican minority in Congress, he proposes tax relief for working families and small businesses, opposes any long term increase in spending, and supports a home buyer’s tax credit.
Cantor, however, isn’t alone in this endeavor. Newt Gingrich, one of the party’s most compelling personalities, is also trying to develop a new Republican agenda. American Solutions for Winning the Future, Gingrich’s “think tank” has written “The Platform for the American People” and it’s surprisingly comprehensive. This is particularly true when it comes to the environment, technology, and social security. It’s a little weak on detail, but it is a step in the right direction.
The GOP wants to regroup, and wants to start winning elections again. And while it may be hard for them to get much coverage during what are the opening years of the Obama era, they’ll find getting it a lot easier if they have something new and creative to offer.