Thursday, May 7, 2009

One man's speculation on why the Republicans will recover

I'm not saying I'm pleased about it, but I do think he's right. The Democrats will figure out a way to screw this up with bad policy and politics. See bottom for my commentary.

(CNN) -- "It is important for us to have a strong Republican Party," Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi tauntingly told a press conference on April 23. "And I hope that the next generation will take back the Republican Party for the Grand Old Party that it used to be."

Thanks Mrs. Pelosi, for your best wishes. But be careful what you wish for. I wouldn't write the obituary for the Republican Party quite yet.

Sure, things are looking grim at the moment. Yes, our Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele stumbled out of the starting gate, making several verbal gaffes, and raising questions about his competence. Yes, the latest poll numbers are in the toilet, showing only 21 percent of the American people call themselves Republicans. Yes, Arlen Specter decided the GOP was a drag on his personal political future. And yes, we lost a special election in upstate New York that maybe we should have won.

But things change. Remember a year-and-a-half ago, when everybody thought the election would be a referendum on the Iraq war. Remember 10 months ago, when everyone thought that expensive gas was going to drive people to the polls. It turned out that, by the time of the election, the most important thing that people cared about was their declining 401ks or their lost job.

Here are five reasons why the Republican Party will be back and perhaps sooner than anyone thinks:

1) Overreach: Several of my Democratic friends over the last several months have tried to comfort me when discussing the fall of the Republican Party with one consoling thought: Don't worry, we will screw it up. And on that one thing I agree with them. The liberal Democrats that currently run the Congress are destined to overreach on the legislative front. Pelosi and her California allies, like Reps. Henry Waxman, George Miller and Pete Stark, tend to think the rest of America wants the same things they do, from higher taxes on energy to a national health care plan that could be a blueprint for socialized medicine, from abortion on demand to gay marriage. But most Americans actually look at California as an economic basket case and social mess. It is a beautiful state, but it is also completely screwed-up, thanks largely to liberal governance. The Democrats are certain to overdo it on the liberalism, and that will make the Republicans much more attractive in two to four years.

2) Checks and balances: Unlike the parliamentary governments of Europe, where one party runs everything until they mess up, the American system actually gives a preference to both parties having skin in the game. While most voters don't actually think "divided government" when they go to the polls, they do think that one-party government tends to lead to excess and corruption. That is why the people have a chance a mere two years after the president gets elected to give him a midterm report card in the form of Congressional elections. Most polls now show voters prefer a candidate who will serve as a check on President Obama's power. And for most voters, who see Pelosi and Nevada Sen. Harry Reid as even more liberal than the president, Republicans will serve as that check.

3) Crisis breeds renewal: When things are going well, a political party tends to discourage independent thought and enforce philosophical orthodoxy. But when a political party faces crisis, all of that goes out the window. It is a wide-open world right now for Republicans as they debate amongst themselves what the party truly stands for. The debate will be painful, as neoconservatives, paleo-conservatives, progressive conservatives, moderates and libertarians battle it out to chart the course for a new and more vibrant party. Republicans can afford to have these debates now when they are in the minority, because frankly, they have nothing else to do. The Democrats went through this process in the mid-90s, and they built a new party that attracted centrists like Mark Warner, without alienating old-line liberals like Pelosi or Waxman.

4) Talent senses opportunity: Investors know that the time to buy is not when the market is at its peak, but when the market is at the bottom. But it is not always easy to know when the bottom hits. In politics, it is pretty easy to know when a party has hit the bottom. And for the Republicans, it is now. Talented political entrepreneurs look to the GOP and see nothing but opportunity. The old bulls have been wiped out. The new guard is ready to start leading. In the House, young guns like Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan are charting the future for the next Republican takeover. Adam Putnam of Florida and Mark Kirk of Illinois are getting ready for state-wide runs. But it is not just the young guns. It also more experienced politicians, John Kasich and Rob Portman of Ohio, Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, Jeb Bush of Florida, who see an opportunity to lead the party back to power.

5) The Republican Party is the de facto Libertarian Party: Most people I talk to think of themselves not as Republicans or Democrats, but as libertarians. Not libertarians in the political party sense, but libertarians in a deeper philosophical sense. They tend to want government to stay out of their lives as much as possible. They tend to distrust all politicians, and when they hear someone say, "I am from the government, and I am here to help," they tend to laugh uproariously. It was Will Rogers who said, "I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts." The Republican Party does best when it seeks to reform government, to lessen the power of the bureaucrat, and to fight to give more freedom to the people. When the GOP returns to that philosophical creed -- which it will do in the face of the Obama administration's vast expansion of government power -- its fortunes will brighten again.

If the Republican Party were a stock, the smart investor would start buying it now. Yes, things look grim at the present time, but things change. The GOP is not dead yet, and Speaker Pelosi may see her wish of a resurgent Republican Party come true quicker than she anticipated.

The parts of the CNN article which seemed most legitimate to me were the "overreach" portions and the "libertarian" portions. Yes, if the Democrats play their policy right, the demographics are absoutely on their side - Republican power base consists of old white males and far right wing evangelical Christians, who are shrinking as a portion of the population and localized more and more in the South. But 21% self-identified Republican becomes a lot more potent if Republicans capture a significant amount of the 38% independents. As a left-of-center independent, I become extremely concerned looking at Pelosi and the Democratic legislature (sometimes with Obama mixed in, and sometimes with Obama opposing them) and some of the policies they're trying to force through because they can.

This takes two forms. The first are the policies rewarding their own electorate - strengthening union leaders at the expense of union workers, "buy American" provisions and tariffs, price controls, etc - which usually are terrible for the country as a whole even as they help the far-left voting bloc. Secondly, a vast expansion of government becomes more than the sum of its parts because we have to afford it, which means we're trading off future taxation and ability to spend for present spending.

The best way to avoid those policies while still maintaining Democratic social policy is a slight Democratic majority with enough Republicans to cut away the dead weight and keep the Democrats moderate. That Republican bloc isn't there now, and you have to figure more than half of independents are right-of-center, because many of them are from the Republican party, which means the Republicans aren't going to have a hard time getting many independent voters if the Democrats aren't very, very restrained. They haven't been restrained, thus far - the words that come to mind are that they're "celebrating like it's Christmas." That's gotta stop if the Democrats don't wanna turn right around in 2-8 years and give back their majority just as quickly as they got it.

As a side note, Palin can be viewed as accelerating a decline of the Republican party, as many pundits are claiming, but she can also be viewed as an anomaly that won't be there to help the Democrats again.

(And as a side note, yes I said this under Bush, yes the Obama budget is significantly larger than anything Bush did, and yes I voted Democrat last election, largely because of Palin.)

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