It isn’t just that Republicans got torched in the ’08 presidential election and the House and Senate elections to a point where President-elect Barack Obama has the clearest governing mandate since the first President Bush and an outside shot at a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate that would give his administration virtual carte blanche for the next two years.
No. The problem isn’t just that. It’s that the GOP got its doors blown off, and it’s setting itself up for a lot more of the same.
Listen to Haley Barbour, the former Republican National Committee chair and current Mississippi governor, talk about why the Republicans fared so poorly in ’08. At the top of the ticket, Barbour said at last week’s Republican Governors Association conference, John McCain had a tried-and-true way for defeating Obama – by rendering him unacceptable to American voters. “And the McCain campaign did not choose to try to make that argument,” Barbour said.
Which is interesting, considering how much time and energy and money the McCain campaign sank into labeling Obama a socialist and Marxist who pals around with terrorists and other such nonsense aimed at getting the hardest of the hardcore into a frothing frenzy. But it’s not just Barbour who is advocating for a more effective more-of-the-same strategy. “The mood of the country is what was bad in this campaign,” said the current RNC chair, Mike Duncan, who insists that voters didn’t actually send a message of rejection of the party’s conservative philosophy, though it’s hard to imagine what other message they might have been sending, considering that we’re not talking about it even having been close on Election Night, really.
I can’t think this is good for my friends who are committed Republicans and believe fervently in their party’s longstanding mantra of smaller government is better and power to the people. First you have the debacle that is the Bush administration, which racked up record deficits and started two interventionist, nation-building wars, and then you have the disaster that was the McCain campaign, which was so out of touch with the base of the party that it had to engage an in-way-over-her-head Alaska governor to try to stanch the bleeding of the GOP core at the risk of any credibility with moderates and uncommitteds.
And now come the necessary postmortems that are getting it all wrong in blaming Nov. 4 on the maverick from Arizona who ran to the right of Genghis Khan at the advice of the Bush-Rove second-teamers left in charge of his campaign. How about taking the advice of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who warned that the party “cannot be a majority governing party when we essentially cannot compete in the Northeast, we are losing our ability to compete in the Great Lakes states, we cannot compete on the West Coast”? And for that matter, I’d add that the Solid South isn’t nearly as solid as the likes of Barbour might want to think. Because even as Republicans made important gains in Tennessee, winning control of the state legislature there earlier this month, there’s the story of Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who is having to go to a runoff to hold onto his seat after falling short of getting 50 percent of the vote on Election Night, and then there’s Obama’s historic victories in Virginia and North Carolina, which not even fellow Southerners Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton could get to turn blue.
Even the governor of Utah, conservative, reddest of red Utah, Jon Huntsman, has his hands on the pulse of what’s wrong with the party. “I’m not one who buys the idea that it’s just an aberration,” Huntsman said last week at the RGA conference. “We’re fundamentally staring down a demographic shift that we’ve never seen before in America,” Huntsman said.
One approach to answering the bell after Nov. 4, 2008, is to follow the lines of the definition of insanity made famous by Albert Einstein, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The Palin in 2012 talk is evidence that it’s going to take the opening of one more can of whoop-ass at the polls before the Republican Party comes to its senses.
– Column by Chris Graham