Alexander's Column

Memo to Republicans: Take a Cue and Get a Clue

By Mark Alexander · May 16, 2008

“The natural cure for an ill-administration, in a popular or representative constitution, is a change of men.” –Alexander Hamilton

The Grand Old Party looks, and acts, like the Going Out Party.

After losing three congressional special elections in as many months, in what were assumed to be “Republican” districts, some Republicans are finally waking up to the fact that they have squandered the Reagan legacy and consequently, are about to be relegated to the minority status wasteland they occupied for five decades after WWII.

Republicans lost House Speaker Denny Hastert’s Illinois seat, Rep. Richard Baker’s Louisiana seat, and this week Roger Wicker’s seat in a very conservative Mississippi district. Notably, President George W. Bush carried all three of these districts in 2004.

Sounding the alert, the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Tom Cole declared, “There is no district that is safe for Republican candidates.”

This would be the same Tom Cole who professed in January, “My biggest problem is not money or candidates. It’s Republican morale. There’s no reason to be this down. The worst is behind us.” Knock, knock … is anyone home?

The NRCC spent $3 million (42 percent of available cash reserves) to defend these three House seats, for naught. This fall, the GOP will have between 40 and 70 seats in play, and may well lose 30 of them.

Rep. Tom Davis, who previously chaired the NRCC, wrote in a memo to his Caucus: “The political atmosphere facing House Republicans this November is the worst since Watergate and is far more toxic than the fall of 2006, when we lost 30 seats (and our majority) and came within a couple of percentage points of losing another 15 seats.”

In 2006, Republicans were left with a 30-seat deficit in the House, which now stands at 37 seats. By January 2009, the Democrats' 236 seats may swell to more than 260 of the 111th Congress’s 435 seats.

Things don’t look much better in the Senate. Currently there are 49 Republicans and 49 Democrats, with two Independents who caucus with the Demos. Analysts expect that the Left may add as many as five more seats to their caucus in November.

Gallup’s reliable 2007 survey of political affiliations indicated that while Republican ranks were declining, more voters were identifying themselves as Democrats and Independents.

And of note, while all eyes were on Hillary Clinton’s primary win in West Virginia this week (the last Democrat to win the presidency without carrying WVA was Woodrow Wilson in 1916), need we remind you that in the Mountain State’s earlier and larger split primary vote, John McCain received only one (that’s 1) percent of the Republican vote. Huckabee collected 52 percent and Romney 46 percent.

Further, in last week’s Indiana and North Carolina primaries, Sen. McCain, the only Republican still in the race, did not sweep the Republican ballot. He lost 18 and 20 percent, of the Republican vote respectively, on those ballots.

Finally smelling the coffee, RNC Chairman Robert Duncan proclaimed, “This was a real wakeup call for us. We can’t let the Democrats take our issues. We can’t let them pretend to be conservatives.” First, what issues? And second, half the Republicans in Washington pretend to be conservatives, why shouldn’t Demos give that ruse a spin?

Given the overall prospects for Republicans this fall, it is no wonder that the House has adopted as its new national slogan, “The Change You Deserve.” No wonder, because that is a registered national advertising slogan for an antidepressant. That drug’s description notes it is FDA approved for the treatment of “depression, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder in adults.” Perhaps a more apropos Republican slogan would be, “The Change We Deserve.”

Of course, Republicans are not the only members of Congress experiencing public contempt. The approval ratings of the Democrat-led House and Senate under Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have fallen precipitously and are competing for all-time lows. Of course, George Bush’s approval ratings are also in the basement, but he will not be on the ballot this fall, at least, not in name.

So, is it too late for Republicans to re-brand themselves? Maybe not, but the more important question would be, will anyone buy it if they do?

One of House Minority Leader John Boehner’s talking points for a Republican leadership meeting this week begs the question, “Are the results in [Mississippi] another indication that 2008 is setting up to be a disastrous year for House Republicans?”

That memo continues, “Our leadership team and our members just had one of the most candid and open meetings we’ve ever had. And we made this commitment: We’re getting up off the mat to fight, and we’re going to prove to the American people that we are the agents of change they expect their Washington leaders to be. Democrats are not winning, we are losing. Failure to fundamentally change the GOP brand can lock us into a very long period of minority status.”

Keen sense of the obvious, and not a minute too soon…

Conservative Rep. John Shadegg agrees: “Since the 2006 elections, Republicans have done absolutely nothing to redefine themselves. We can’t even get behind an earmark moratorium bill.”

What is the solution? Well, the same solution advocated by The Patriot Post: since our inception.

Republicans must adopt, and actually adhere to, the timeless conservative principles advocated by Ronald Reagan. These principles are still in the Republican Platform, but most Republicans pay them little heed. Republicans need a unified message advocating individual liberty, the restoration of constitutional limits on government and the judiciary, and the promotion of free enterprise, national defense and traditional American values.

The Party of Reagan withered under the “kinder, gentler” administration of Bush(41), consequently suffering further indignity under two “era of big government is over” Clinton terms, only to be further disenfranchised by Bush(43)’s “compassionate conservatism.”

Government spending and regulation increased dramatically when Republicans held the White House and majorities in the House and Senate. That does not constitute “reform” or “change.” So why should voters believe them now?

Conservatives have to convince Americans that the menacing jihadi threat must be contained, while deploring the Left’s traitorous potshots at the real shooting war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Republican Party has lost its bearings, and, predictably, its ability to field conservative candidates in general elections. Though there are still many authentic conservatives on Capitol Hill, they have not composed even a majority of the Republican Party since Newt Gingrich was speaker.

Ahead of the 1964 presidential election, Ronald Reagan delivered what is now considered the defining declaration of 20th-century conservatism: “A Time for Choosing.” Reagan said, “This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.” He went on to define, with typical clarity and resolve, a political agenda designed to “conserve” our national heritage.

In 1977, Reagan outlined a plan for “The New Republican Party,” and four years later rode it to victory. After four years of implementation, the success of his vision was verified by his landslide re-election in 1984.

Of that success, Reagan said, “I won a nickname, the ‘Great communicator.’ … I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow; they came from the heart of a great nation – from our experience, our wisdom and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries.”

In 2005, my friend Rep. Mike Pence and his minority caucus of conservatives in the Republican Party rallied around principles outlined in a speech renewing Reagan’s vision, “Another Time for Choosing,” but alas, it was too little too late.

Today, conservatives and Republicans again face a time for choosing.

The NRCC’s Tom Cole concludes, “What we’ve got right now is a deficiency in our message and a loss of confidence by the American people that we are going to do what we say we’re going to do.”

No, that is what you had back in 2006.

House Minority Leader John Boehner declares, “I think we are going to gain seats this year. Period.” Apparently the House’s anti-depressant slogan has worked on him.

More in touch with reality, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says that without a spectacular change of course, the GOP is headed for a catastrophe this fall: “[Republicans better] chart a bold course of real change or they are going to suffer decisive losses.”

Perhaps there is still time for Republicans to re-brand themselves around conservative themes and even adopt them as a matter of policy. It’s high time they borrowed another slogan: “Just Do It.”