Is the GOP relevant in 2008?

Right now, a lot of Republicans are probably feeling the way Winston Churchill felt at the end of 1945.

Two months after Germany surrendered, the crowning achievement of a war effort that many of his countrymen once believed to be unwinnable, Churchill was ousted as Prime Minister in elections in which half his party's seats were lost to the new Labour government.

On the heels of losing special elections for three longtime Republican congressional seats, Republicans are wondering what lies ahead, concerned that many of the roughly two dozen open seats may follow suit, reducing the GOP to its pre-Clinton era minority in the House.

What went wrong?

History shows that while voters may appreciate past performance, their current concerns are more important in influencing their voting behaviors. So long as the GOP chooses to remain silent on the issues which most affect people, they shouldn't be surprised at their present state of affairs, which we believe centers around three key problems:

First, an unpopular President, who has chosen to hunker down and ride out the last two years of his term in office, has hurt the party. Second, the work of Congressional GOP leaders, who abandoned the party's fiscally-conservative principles and allow ethics to return to the days of Jim Wright and Danny Rostenkowski, convinced swing voters that Congressional Republicans had no more appeal than the President. Third, with Saddam Hussein dead and Bin Laden either dead or in hiding, the last ace the GOP had, security and military issues, was no longer relevant.

As in 1945 post-WW2 Britain, today's electorate has moved on to new issues. Thus the question before the GOP is not one of if it's right on issues, or what it's done wrong to upset voters, so much as one of relevance.

Some of our die-hard Republican readers may argue that the GOP is right on the issues, but look at the polls - voters now favor Democrats on the key issues of the day, and the issues where Republicans enjoy the highest (but still losing) levels of support, are low on the priority lists of voters.

Whether the issues are fiscal conservatism and governmental ethics, where their credibility has been severely damaged, or issues like energy prices and health care, issues of high importance with voters, where they are painfully silent, Republicans may be talking, but for the first time in a long time, nobody's listening.

The Republican congressional majority, which was installed in 1994, was based upon the perception the Democrats were out of touch with the American people. Putting together an agenda that connected with the views of voters, both right and center, on the issues which were of the greatest concerns, the GOP rode to victory from coast-to-coast.

In the months following the GOP's electoral romp, Bill Clinton "got it" and started to speak to the concerns of voters, even when he didn't actually do anything. As a result of his combination of symbolic and substantive tactics, Clinton salvaged his re-election prospects and the GOP gained little additional ground throughout the rest of his term.

Right now, the Democrats may not have much of an agenda, but they don't have to - they're not in charge. They need only keep their heads down, avoid infuriating voters, and wait for the voters to throw them the keys of power. So long as the GOP holds the White House, voters perceive its congressional members as part of the political majority - and will reward or blame them accordingly. In the last three special elections, the voters have done just that.

So how does the GOP turn it around?

In business, it's all about serving the customers - listening to them and meeting their needs. For a party that is supposed to be pro-business, the GOP seems to be doing a pretty lousy job of emulating that basic approach of DOING business these days. Republicans should try treating voters like customers - learn their needs and concerns, and offer them a quality product they'll want to buy on Election Day.

We'll be talking about some of these problems, and hope you'll join the conversation.

3 Response to "Is the GOP relevant in 2008?"

  1. Anonymous 19/5/08 08:39
    Nice piece Earl,
    I believe that your analysis is right on the mark as to our elected officials in Columbia as well as Washington being "out of touch". As a whole, they have indeed abandoned the the GOP core principles of personal responsibility, less government and lower taxes. And to make matters worse, contemporary voters, myself included do not trust government at any level. So you're right; GOP incumbents will take it on the chin in the June primaries and many of those left standing will go down in November. The GOP conservative base simply feels abandoned, and this has been coming on increasingly over the last decade.
    Have a nice day!
  2. Waldo 19/5/08 22:38
    Actually, the party DOES serve its customers. It just has a really narrow market niche it wants to serve, and those customers don't much want anyone else in the store who's not there to buy what they're buying.
  3. harris county texas moye 20/5/08 17:51
    So let me get this right all conservatives are republicans and all republicans are conservatives and there is no room for anyone else at the table. That is why we may get beat so bad is the closed mind.

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