Rebuilding a Broken Party
Republican presidential nominee John McCain trailed his Democratic opponent by 6.3 million votes, the biggest popular vote deficit for a GOP candidate since the man he succeeded in the US Senate got blown out in 1964.
And if to add an asterisk insult to an exclamation point of an injury, Barack Obama carried Nebraska’s Second Congressional District, meaning that the president-elect snatched up an extra electoral vote from one of the reddest states in America thanks to their electoral vote allocation rules. At least Bob Dole was able to sweep the Cornhusker State in its entirety.
If it’s possible for a Republican to put this election in a better perspective, then one could look at the popular vote margin in the swing states that represented the electoral votes McCain needed to win.
The combined popular vote total for the margins in New Hampshire, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Colorado was under 1,000,000 votes (approximately 972,640), assuming Missouri’s electoral votes are allocated to McCain at the end of the day.
But even such sunny spin is in great contrast to the 1976 GOP defeat as Gerald Ford’s popular vote margin that turned the Electoral College against him was less than 19,000 votes (11,116 in Ohio and 7,372 in Hawaii).
So in light of the thrashing the GOP took at the polls, here’s the upside:
1) John McCain has left the podium: Many Republicans early on refused to embrace McCain’s candidacy under any circumstances. McCain did a heck of a job proving his GOP detractors right on the money. The party no longer tethered to McCain’s media pandering that is not reflective of the sentiments of the party base. Tackling illegal immigration can finally reemerge as a political priority for the GOP.
2) The RINOs finally “out” themselves: Somewhere in heaven Jesse Helms is having one hell of a laugh. Remember former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, who during the nineties was the party’s most prominent supporter of gay marriage and abortion? What about Lincoln Chafee, the least reliable Republican in the senate caucus yet his own party squandered hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars to salvage his political career. Then there is former Congressman Jim Leach of Iowa, who famously (at least for political junkies) refused to vote for Newt Gingrich’s re-election as speaker in 1997 and instead voted for former Republican House Minority Leader Bob Michel. What do all of these progressive Republicans have in common? They all turned their back on one of their own moderates and endorsed Obama, the most liberal candidate ever nominated by the Democratic Party. Their example shows exactly why the “country club” wing of the GOP cannot be entrusted with the reins of party leadership. EVER!
3) The end of the line for the Bush Dynasty: George W. Bush ascended as the party nominee in 2000 despite longstanding resentment by conservative towards his father (the feeling was mutual) and the lackluster re-election campaign he waged in 1992. Fortunately for the then-Texas governor, Republicans were hungry for victory and were willing to entrust the future of the party to Dubya. After achieving astronomically high ratings as president after 9-11 and helping the GOP win congressional elections in 2002 and 2004, President Bush seemed to give up making any effective public relations effort for his administration, policies and party after Hurricane Katrina. In addition to contributing towards the wrecking McCain’s candidacy, the current president has virtually eliminated any chance Jeb ever had of being nominated. Probably ruined it for George P. as well. Not much gnashing of teeth on this count outside of Kennebunkport.
4) The opportunity to rebuild: Finally, the Republican Party leadership has the chance to re-emerge from the shadow of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to install leadership not beholden to a single politician. As a rule, the president names his choice for head of the national party with the assembled national committeemen and women and state chairmen relegated as a mere rubber-stamp to make it official. Without an administration leaning on the state party leaders, they are now free to do the work of rebuilding a party and not simply appeasing the whims of a president. The GOP now has the freedom to be conservative and not chained to an unpopular agenda.
Members of the Republican National Committee would be wise to elect former
Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele as the new general chairman. And no, I am not for Steele just because he’s black.
The party has a major image problem in large part because how the White House was lethargic in its image building since 2005. Steele would represent not only a change in style but in experience as a former county and state chairman, statewide elected official and candidate for US Senate. In other words, he’s been in the trenches.
If the party is serious about making a play for the youth vote (Steele was the Young Republican pick for veep in 2008), it is necessary to have an articulate person representing the party and not have a haggard functionary that is charismatically challenged as the face of the party. After all, we already have that fronting for the GOP in Congress.
Mike Bayham is a political consultant in south Louisiana. His column is posted at mikebayham.blogspot.com and he can be reached at MikeBayham@yahoo.com.