Tags: Democrats, GOP, President Bush, President Obama, President-elect Obama, Republicans
As Americans wake on the morning of November 5th, they awake in a country on the verge of a new era. With the landslide victory of President-elect Barack Obama, who enters office with significant majorities in both the House and the Senate, Americans have spoken, and spoken loudly. The Republican administration of lame-duck President George W. Bush has been swept from office as U.S. citizens voiced their concerns that the GOP was no longer in touch with the average American.
However, despite the humiliating defeat, the Republican Party is far from dead. Indeed, in the long run, a crushing defeat at the hands of Obama and his allies may be exactly what the GOP needs to spring back into national power. Although the defeat and future power seem contradictory, one realizes that the idea isn’t so far-fetched when we recall how far astray from its “roots” the Republican leadership has gone over the last eight years. Abandoning the old mainstays of fiscal responsibility, small government, and increased rights to private individuals, the GOP in many respects had become the thing it feared most – the Democratic Party. For all intents and purposes, the parties, at least in Congress, had become indistinguishable. By assuming power, the Republicans in Congress and the White House permitted absolute power, especially in the wake of broad support following the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, to transform them into big government, drunk on power and unlimited funding. By forsaking their roots, the Republicans set the stage for the major upsets in the last two elections.
But now that they are removed from power, the Republican Party and its leaders can return to what made them popular in the first place. The environment for a victory in two years in the next national election is perfect for conservatives, who, if they play their cards right and get a little help from the Democrats, could provide a stunning comeback. Let’s take a look at the opportunities:
– An inexperienced, untested President taking office with enormous expectations. Republicans must exploit any mistakes by Obama in his first months in office. If Obama opens negotiations with Iran, or backpedals in the face of pressure from North Korea, China, Russia, or Venezuela, the GOP has a fantastic opportunity to show that Obama is weak when it comes to foreign policy. Likewise, the domestic decisions that Obama makes in his first two years as president could have significant ramifications for the economy, the health system, and social policy, and he must tread lightly and ignore the obvious mistake of liberalizing too much too quickly, or he and his party will quickly burn through the political currency they gained yesterday.
– A faltering economy. The overwhelming focus of voters, the economy continues to struggle while the government seems helpless to solve the credit crunch, the enormous (and crippling) housing mortgage crisis, and a slipping dollar. The country may be on the verge of significant inflation, yet the government continues to find new ways to pour money into the economy. Obama plans sweeping tax changes and has promised to pour upwards of sixty billion dollars into the nation’s infrastructure. Unfortunately, the United States probably can’t afford such action, at least not now.
– Increasing domestic divisiveness. Socially, conservatives and liberals in the United States continue to go their separate ways. Obama takes office with a significant portion of the country extremely distrustful of his motives and potential (which is nothing new for any president). However, he will have to be careful not to offend large segments of voters, or, like the 2006 national elections, citizens will treat him as they treated President Bush and his unpopular Iraq War.
– A global security nightmare. War in the Congo. Continued crisis in Dafur. An aggressive Russia unresponsive to global scrutiny. A war going well in Iraq. A war not going well in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden still unaccounted for. Mr. Obama must find ways to protect Americans from a second 9/11. However, he must also judiciously approach foreign crises as well. The United States is uniquely prepared to go into other countries to stop calamities like genocide or famine. Obama must continue the United State’s role as a global policeman while still avoiding getting mired in another long war in a country that doesn’t fully support our own end goals.
All these issues point clearly to opportunities for the Republican Party to seize on mistakes by the Obama administration and his supporters in Congress. A major mishandling of a crisis by Obama would go a long way to bringing the GOP back into power. However, Republicans must also reinvent their image as a party of the people, rather than a party of the government. If they can project a new understanding of responsibility and empathy, they should be poised, at the very least, to take back some of the lost seats of Congress. I suggest three ways to help the Republicans get back on track.
First, the Republican Party must recreate themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility. This is a no-brainer. The Bush administration has become famous for its liberal spending policies, which inevitably led to increased government debt and certainly did not help the country avoid the recession that even now wracks the economy. This spending is not reminiscent of your grandparents’ Republican party. With nearly every state struggling economically, schools scrambling to make ends meet, and individuals watching their savings dissolve, it is shocking that Americans have so little faith in Republicans that they turn to a party that is known for its spending excess. The GOP CANNOT miss this golden opportunity to push towards decreased government. People don’t want to spend more money on taxes – they want to save and have the government help provide things like education, energy, and infrastructure. Resume the push for small government and fiscal responsibility, and the Republicans will have taken a major step towards success.
Second, the GOP must begin rebuilding bridges with the media. Yes, everyone knows that the media is indeed biased (except, it seems, the media itself), but news outlets continue to hold enormous sway over voters. Indeed, it is a testament that President Bush was able to be elected despite extreme negative treatment by the media. Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, was incredibly popular with news organizations, and he used those ties to his advantage. While pandering to the media is not an activity the GOP would like to do, it cannot escape the fact that it will not be successful unless it can somehow gain respect, if not love, from media outlets. There is no doubt that Barack Obama was a media darling during the 2008 elections. Republicans must pull a page from the Democrats’ book and use the media as a tool to achieve success, rather than battle reporters and cameras at every outlet.
Finally, and most importantly, the GOP must show that it is a party of and for the people. Too many people criticize Republicans for being aloof and “above” the average citizen. Democrats got involved with the people who would vote for them and got their hands dirty campaigning. Republicans recently have failed to engage voters on a personal level, showing that they understand the economic and social woes of the everyday family. Without this personal engagement and a clear understanding of what most people are going through, or knowing what the goals and beliefs of the average citizen are, the Republicans cannot gain the support of voters. Rectifying this problem would be a significant achievement.
While Republicans are (and should be) disappointed by the results of the 2008 election, there is hope on the horizon. The GOP must seize on Democratic mistakes and effectively take the place of the Democratic Party as the political entity most in touch with voters. By taking advantage of knowing WHY they lost this election, the Republican Party can set itself up to avoid another failure in 2010.