Monday, June 29, 2009

Change Is Not Made Without Inconvenience

The Republican Party is going nowhere, unless oblivion is considered a worthwhile destination. It is unfortunate when one considers that the roots of the Grand Old Party should be strong enough to endure its current travails. Then again, no root system can endure a sustained hatchet attack. Facts are stubborn things and they are what follow to clearly make the case that the GOP must radically change its rationale for remaining one side of the two party system.

In 1996 the GOP held majorities in the House and Senate and among the nation’s governors. Back then the GOP’s congressional majority margins were 27 seats in the House, six seats in the Senate, and 31 governors were Republican. Today the GOP is in the minority by 79 seats in the House, ten seats in the Senate and now has just 22 governors.

More indicative of the GOP’s future is that it currently controls only 27 state legislative chambers. Democrats control 58 of those chambers. In 1994 the Republican Party controlled 47 state legislative chambers; parity with the Democrat’s control of 48 state chambers. State legislatures may sound like small potatoes in comparison to Capitol Hill. But the aggregate of all state budgets is currently $1.6 trillion. That is roughly half of what lawmakers in Congress spent in 2009. That’s big money being spent by state politicians with aspirations to have an office on Capitol Hill where the budgeting opportunities are enormous.

It would be easy to blame this precipitous decline of the GOP on eight years of President George W. Bush. As much as it would be nice to point the finger in his direction, it can’t be done. The blame lies with the Republican congressional leadership of the day. Speaker Denny Hastert was qualified to manage a high school wrestling team but not the U.S. House. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was the ideal leader for the Confederate States of America, but not the U.S. Senate. By lining their majorities squarely behind President Bush’s policies – particularly Mr. Bush’s free spending habits – and receiving their assignments at the service entrance of the Bush White House, Hastert and Lott doomed the future of the Republican Party. When George Bush entered the White House in 2001 the federal government had a budget surplus of $127 billion. When he left in 2009 it had a debt of $1.75 trillion after spending $21 trillion. The Republican controlled Congress had the power of the purse, which they unlocked for Mr. Bush’s greedy hand when they allowed PAYGO legislation (a law requiring new taxes and spending to be offset by either tax hikes or spending cuts) to expire in 2002.

By obediently carrying President Bush’s water on Capitol Hill they allowed the decimation of the Republican Party in the swing House districts and Senate seats across the country, with the greatest damage being inflicted on Northeast moderate Republicans because they did not blindly follow President’s policy agenda of lower taxes and greater spending. If the Republican Party stubbornly sticks to its politics of excluding moderate Republican pragmatism it will soon find the demographics of the country have left it behind – a topic to be covered later.

It is a shame that northeast moderate Republicans were showed the door of the GOP tent by the southerners who ran the GOP at the time, the exception being Mr. Hastert of Illinois who proved himself simply incompetent to the task of leading House Republicans. The shame is because so much of Republican Party history was from the Northeast. The first five chairmen of the RNC were from the northeast; New York, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York in that order. The second chairman was Henry Jarvis Raymond who was appointed by the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, and who was also a media mogul (having founded the New York Times).

The result of showing the Northeast GOP moderates the door caused the near extinction of the breed in the region as the GOP lost 25 House members there between 1996 and today.

Those losses (ignoring for now equally important moderate Republican losses in other regions of the country) combined with the decline in Republican controlled state legislatures means the GOP has no bench. No bench means no future. Any baseball fan knows this axiom. At least baseball has free agency which gives the fan a reason to hope; there is no such thing in politics other than the occasional party switcher.

If the GOP were a baseball team the only solution to its problems is young arms. It has none now and its best prospects, like Gov. Bobby Jindal, don’t have the juice to make it in the Bigs. The only option left to management is to develop the farm system and forget about the playoffs. Unfortunately the GOP’s management is either too concerned for their caucuses or too enamored of seeing themselves on television yammering blindly to get to the hard work of rebuilding what was once known as the Gallant Old Party.

Minority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell is too busy trying to control adolescent-like hormones in his caucus to dedicate the time to fixing the national GOP. Minority Leader John Boehner is too busy trying to be relevant to the daily news cycle on Capitol Hill to give it a go. In truth, rejuvenating the Republican Party is not their responsibility.

The responsibility is with Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. Unfortunately for the Republican Party, Chairman Steele lacks the discipline and intellect to go about the very important business of making the GOP viable and relevant. Chairman Steele’s message discipline reminds me of the elementary school actor who forgets their lines and decides to improvise, badly. Subsequently, the intellect of the man shines forth with barely enough light to read large print.

In this moment the RNC needs to forget about beating President Barack Obama in 2012. Certainly Republicans will choose a presidential nominee after a brutal primary contest, a topic Red Elephant will take on later in great detail. But for now the GOP should forget the brass ring; a Republican is unlikely to go to the White House in 2012 – barring future events that irrevocably impact the political climate. For now the RNC should focus on small ball: winning key state legislative contests; picking up some U.S. House seats, playing solid electoral defense in the U.S. Senate; and winning the keys to a few governor mansions. Small ball advances runners into scoring position; this case being a small number of proven statewide officials able to run competitively nationwide backed by a GOP team that defines itself as more than the party of white, southern church-goers. The best advice for the RNC is to stop planning for the walk-off homer in 2012 and instead get itself into scoring position starting now. Such a reality is inconvenient for the GOP, but better to face it than become irrelevant.

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