Immediately after last Tuesday's election many speculators were busy eulogizing the Republican Party. The Republican candidate for president was soundly defeated and congressional Republicans were scrambling to ensure that Democrats did not obtain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate (results still pending). In nearly every race of importance voters turned against the GOP and voted for "change." Part of this was a referendum of sorts on the Bush administration, but the Democrats do deserve credit for running a superior national campaign and having more appealing candidates overall. As Americans prepare for the next four to eight years under a Democratic White House, one is left to wonder how the Republicans will rebound from such a sound defeat.
Even renowned liberal columnist Thomas Frank opined the day after the election, "This is a story of decline but not necessarily of fall ... This movement will be back, and the biggest fights are yet to come."
Not so long ago, in the aftermath of the 2002 midterm elections, Republicans were condescendingly gloating about the fall of the Democratic Party. Now, here we sit a mere six years later witnessing a massive role reversal. The GOP will rebound from this most recent defeat. How long it takes to rebound will depend on what key steps Republicans take over the next few months and years.
One of the reasons that most astute political analysts predict an eventual pendulum swing back toward the GOP is that America is still a center-right country politically and socially. Evidence of this can be seen in several reputable polls such as one conducted by the Club for Growth. This survey was conducted the weekend before the election and concentrated on 12 congressional swing districts. The use of swing districts is important because it represents a good mix of Republicans and Democrats. In fact, in the testing area, 40 percent of respondents identified themselves as Democrats, 37 percent as Republicans and 19 percent as Independents. In this poll, evidence suggested that most Americans still support traditionally conservative principles such as less government, lower taxes and domestic drilling (to name a few). Over two thirds of these voters want the death tax to be eliminated and 65 percent of them support keeping the capital gains and dividend tax rates at their current levels. Domestic drilling is similarly skewed in that 62 percent of voters support limited drilling in ANWR, and a whopping 75 percent agree with offshore drilling. This particular survey is one of many polls that have showed similar trends in America over the past few months.
So if these numbers are true, why did the Republicans lose? One of the major reasons was that Republican politicians in Washington abandoned these conservative roots. It is no secret that under the Bush administration our federal government grew substantially and spending raged out of control. Perhaps Republicans thought they could get away with these tricks, but they forgot a simple truth: People aren't stupid. The voters in the above survey overwhelmingly blamed the Republicans for the recent unabashed growth of government. Around 48 percent of respondents tagged the GOP as the party responsible for such pork barreling projects as the Bridge to Nowhere (compared to 14 percent for the Democrats). More telling, 80 percent agreed with the statement that "in recent years, too many Republicans in Washington have become just like the big spenders that they used to oppose." This shows that voters agree with conservative principles, but no longer believe the Republican Party is the torch bearer of such policies.
While these findings may not be exhaustive nor conclusive, they are enough to show that America has not swung permanently leftward. Republicans need to work to regain the trust of America's moderate to-right-leaning swing voters. Barack Obama's campaign targeted this population and convinced them that an Obama White House would be more sympathetic to their ideals than a McCain White House. Obama did this by tying McCain to the Bush administration. This is a trend that the Republicans cannot allow to continue. Republicans need to embrace the dawning of a new era and distance themselves from the Bush administration and irresponsible Capitol Hill party members.
To combat these ties, Republicans need to turn to a new generation of leaders such as Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan and, yes, perhaps even Sarah Palin (much to every liberal's chagrin). Candidates such as these have solid conservative principles and given their youth (Paul Ryan) and/or outsider status (Jindal and Palin) cannot be directly tied to the current failing Republican leaders. This election was not a complete rejection of conservatism. Instead it was a rejection of those who claimed to be conservatives. The GOP has the right mix of ingredients -- it just needs the proper cooks.