Worried About The GOP’s Future

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - May 27, 2009
| Del.icio.us

I’m worried about the future of the Republican Party.

Oh, I know, it’s hard to believe that a lopsided liberal like me would fret about the plight of the GOP. And I suppose I’m not fretting. After all that Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the Republican congresses have wrought these last 15 years, I sure don’t want to see them return to power anytime soon. But I am worried.

The national Republican Party finds itself bereft of leadership - save that of a thoroughly discredited ex-vice president and the radio gabber Rush Limbaugh.

Republican moderates despair. There were, after the elections of 2006 and 2008, only three of them left in the United States Senate, perhaps a half-dozen in the U.S. House. Last month, one of those in the Senate, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, announced himself a Democrat.

Indeed, the last two national elections have proven disastrous for Republicans, resulting in a loss of 51 seats in the House, 13 in the Senate, and - of course - the presidency.

What’s left of the congressional GOP hails primarily from the South and the West. And it is staunchly, often irrationally, conservative. In an April 29 op-ed column in the New York Times, Maine’s Olympia J. Snowe, one of the two Republican moderates left in the Senate, attributed Specter’s defection to the Democrats to the GOP’s “devaluation of diversity with the party.”

She went on to argue that “there is no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and continuing to retreat into a regional party. Ideological purity is not the ticket back to the promised land of governing majorities - indeed, it was when we began to emphasize social issues to the detriment of some of our basic tenets as a party that we encountered an electoral backlash.”

Snowe’s moderate Republican Senate colleague from Maine understands this. When Susan Collins helped negotiate President Barack Obama’s stimulus package and joined Snowe and Specter in voting for it, she received no end of criticism from her conservative Republican colleagues. Collins explained herself simply: “People don’t want us to be the party that just says no, just no.”

But that is the path members of the national Republican Party have chosen to follow since the elections of 2008 (and one might argue, long before). Obama’s attempts to reach out to Republicans have left him staring at his empty, proffered hand. Republicans have responded with “no, just no.”

They’ve also returned to preaching the gospel of “Read my lips: no new taxes” - the gospel message of Gov. Linda Lingle’s veto rally at the Capitol last month in which she struck down two Democratic tax measures that would have impacted only the wealthiest among us, one that would be paid largely by visitors, and a fourth that would cost those among us who chew tobacco - that’s right, who chew tobacco.

And the Republican insistence on putting social issues at the core of their ideology was also on display this past legislative session. In the debate over civil unions, Republican legislators unanimously said “no.” To be sure, their tone was sometimes gentle, but in other instances it was snide or derisive. In other words, uncivil to the core.

In the optimistic Republican mini-surge of the late ‘90s, many of us thought the local GOP might, just might, achieve a majority in at least one house of the Legislature. It didn’t happen. In a booming economy, a moderate Linda Lingle won two terms as governor, but neither she nor the Republican faithful have been able to fashion anything close to a legislative majority. At last count, six Republicans serve in the 51-member state house, two in the 25-member state Senate.

Those Republicans who remain in office blame their plight on Hawaii’s plantation past, on the power of Hawaii’s unions, on the “liberal media,” on the stupidity of the voter.

Instead, they might consider their insistence on “shrinking their ideological confines” and their propensity for saying “no, just no.”

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