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Don't write the GOP off quite yet

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

The rising surge in epitaphs for the Republican Party are reminiscent of Mark Twain’s “The report of my death was an exaggeration” response after learning his obituary had been published in the New York Journal in 1897. While the GOP obviously is less than robust, it is worthy to realize that the majority of these notices are published gleefully by those known for demonizing Republicans.

Evidence offered to support the conclusion that Republicans are dead in the water includes their loss of both the House and Senate in the 2006 election, the 2008 election of President Obama, the recent defection of Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and that they are out of touch with the public and no longer the party of fiscal responsibility to name a few. There is also the lunatic fringe of mindless hate that exists in both parties but gains in stridency with the party in power.

While the GOP is not particularly healthy, it is premature to schedule a wake. After all, since 1931, the House of Representatives has had a Democratic Party majority for 60 years as opposed to the Republicans for 16 – it has been little different in the Senate with Democrats in the driver’s seat for 54 years. In the same period, a Democrat has occupied the White House for 40 years and a Republican for 36 – consequently, the party of Lincoln has shown an innate resiliency to regroup and re-energize.

To cede the Congress to the Democrats in perpetuity is akin to drawing to an inside straight. Either party’s ability to maintain a Congressional majority is largely based on the economy, a perception of national stability and adherence to the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s erudite “all politics is local.” The legislator who forgets the constituency that elected him/her will soon seek other employment.

Although President Obama received a near landslide 365 margin to 173 over Sen. John McCain in electoral votes and an edge in popular vote, his winning percentage of 5 percent must be viewed in context. While his Election Day popularity among virtually every voting demographic is unquestioned, when one considers that the lack of enthusiasm and ardor generated among voters by McCain rivaled that of Republican Wendell Wilkie in 1940, it loses some of the aura.

Labeling Sen. Specter a paragon of virtue and true man of the people for recognizing the dark side of the Republican Party and abandoning it for the more “principled and caring party” is an absurdity rather than a catastrophe. Specter, originally a Democrat, defected to the Republicans when it became apparent he could not win as a Democrat in Pennsylvania — his “party loyalty” has come full circle. It is difficult to mourn or respect a turncoat.

Republicans have also been labeled the party of "no" pursuant to their rejection of the stimulus package and budget submissions. I understand political rhetoric; however, to expect one party to vote in lockstep with the other in legislation promotes mob rule as opposed to representative republic. Additionally, while it might play well with the blue constituencies, referring to Republican deficits as robbing from the poor and the middle class while viewing Democrat tripling that deficit as "investment" is a bit hard to take.

In fairness, much of the Republican malaise is self-inflicted. For whatever reason, they failed to exercise the fiscal discipline and smaller government conservatism that enabled them to be elected. An unpopular war did not help, nor did extending a hand of cooperation to an unforgiving opposition that has never accepted the results of the 2000 election.

A primary bar to recovery is the contentious and unproductive struggle over the definition of conservative as opposed to Republican. Sadly, this is being carried to extremes by some of our illustrious but unelected and highly opinionated talk show hosts who claim to be the true voice of Ronald Reagan. In so doing, they provide aid and comfort to the rival in pitting Republicans against conservatives, albeit ignoring the true Reagan Doctrine.

President Reagan was a conservative Republican who firmly believed and so stated that a party member who agreed 80 percent of the time must be welcomed to the fold. Additionally, his 11th Commandment “thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican" seems to have been forgotten among the far right. "United we stand, divided we fall" is a concept Reagan practiced. It would behoove us to heed it.

Finally, the Democratic Party will retain power at the pleasure of the electorate. The secret to its control of Congress for so long was vested in leaders such as Sen. Mike Mansfield and Rep. Tip O’Neill — highly partisan but politically astute in the art of fair and civil compromise. Thus far, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have yet to exhibit these traits. Haughty arrogance might excite the party faithful but those alone will not carry an election.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.

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Comments

Christopher Foote May 12, 2009 | 11:20 a.m.

I agree that it is premature to write off the Republican party as they are exceptional campaigners and masterful in the manner in which they mold the the media to endorse their views. However, the near term does not look bright. The electoral landscape in 2010 is very favorable for Democrats. In the long term the Republicans have significant problems as well. Notably the changing demographics of the country suggest the current iteration of the Republican party is in trouble. If we divide the country into 6 broad groups: white voters with at least a four-year college degree; white voters without a college degree; African-Americans; Hispanics; Asians; and other minorities and look how they voted in 2008, the Republicans relied most heavily on working class whites. If each group represented the same share of the electorate as it did in 1992, McCain wins handily. This is all the more striking, as McCain was a very weak candidate. Unfortunately, for the Republicans, their one favorable demographic group will continue to shrink. In order to be viable again the Republicans need to attract voters from the other 5 groups. This is especially true of Hispanics, as this group is predicted to grow enormously in the next decades. The question is can the Republicans change their platform to attract Hispanic votes, to once again become a majority party?

(Report Comment)
Robert craig May 12, 2009 | 3:48 p.m.

Agree that they're certainly in a world of hurt. My contention, however, is because they have tried to "change their platform". I believe that a lot of conservatives turned their back on the party because McCain was considered a RINO. We have seen what happens when the party tries to "change its platform" and be Democrat Lite.

(Report Comment)

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