How the GOP Got Here
Understanding and recriminating.


Well that wasn’t good news for the Right, last night! National Review Online asked some regulars to address: “What happened to the Republican party Tuesday? Who’s to blame?”

L. Brent Bozell
The election of Barak Obama will go down as one of the greatest political sleights of hands of all time. Obama campaigned on the empty rhetoric of change and hope and will instead deliver socialism, something too many of his supporters never saw coming. The leftist so-called “news” media was complicit in this charade, refusing to tell the truth about this man’s agenda. Their reputation is finished.

The liberal wing of the GOP has caused the collapse of the Republican party. It is no longer a viable player in the political conversation, and deservedly so: For a decade it has spat on the values of Ronald Reagan. Conservatives let it be known on Tuesday in races all over the country that it has had enough with the betrayal.

We conservatives need to face the new political reality soberly — we are out — but we can also face the future with optimism. Our principles were embraced by every single GOP primary candidate, even President-Elect Obama, who spent half his time championing tax cuts, fiscal discipline and a strong national defense, all promises we know he’ll break, but promises he needed to make to win the election.

Our principles continue to be embraced by the American people. It is our movement that needs rebuilding. That begins today. It’s time for conservatives to roll up their sleeves, strap on their boots, and get to work.

— L. Brent Bozell is president of the Conservative Victory Committee and chairman, Media Research Center.

Alvin S. Felzenberg
In this election, given that so much was running in the Democrats’ favor, the Republican party nominated the only candidate with a ghost of a chance of winning. Still, the GOP came up short. Historically, that’s no surprise, as only one time has a party won the presidency three times in a row since World War II (the Republicans with Bush I).

So, the three strands of conservatism in the house Reagan built would do well not to blame each other for taking the GOP down. They would do better to ask themselves whether, in their quests to enact their agendas, they relied too much on raw exertions of power and too little on the power of persuasion. For it is in defending ideas that unforeseen weaknesses are revealed and public support built. 

From the Bush II’s swearing-in to the McCain campaign, there were at work elements of a “corrupt bargain” in which each part of the conservative coalition held its fire at the excesses of the others in the hope of attaining much of its own objectives. An ill-conceived and poorly planned war went on unabated; institutional and constitutional checks and balances were ignored; deficits mounted; spending proceeded at an unprecedented pace; and, for the first time since Herbert Hoover, the nation stands on the verge of financial meltdown. Would that more conservatives had criticized the departing administration before Bush “43’s” ratings fell to 27 percent. They did neither him, nor their cause, any favors by keeping silent. 

It is said that in every victory lay the seeds of future defeats and in every defeat, the seeds of future victories. There is, after all, something liberating about being free of ultimate responsibility for the executive and legislative branches for the first time in 15 years. That is one year less than it took to complete the long march from Goldwater’s defeat to Reagan’s victory. One question hanging over Republicans will be whether they do it again without a second Nixon interregnum.

– Alvin S. Felzenberg is author of The Leaders We Deserved and a Few We Didn’t: Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game.

Michael G. Franc
Two things jumped out at me in reviewing last night’s results: First, in the House, the Democrats’ surge reached far and wide. It claimed victims from both the Republican Right as well as the Middle. Reliable and effective conservatives such as Reps. Marilyn Musgrave, Tom Feeney, and Thelma Drake lost. That most endangered form of Republican, the moderate, suffered another round of devastating losses, with most of the attrition coming from a rash of voluntary and (some) involuntary retirements. I count at least 14 more seats that have shifted from a moderate Republican to a reliably liberal Democrat. And, as was the case in the last two election cycles, once these seats flip to Democratic control they tend to transition seamlessly into safe (and liberal) Democrat seats for the foreseeable future.

With these changes, returning House Republicans will be more uniformly conservative. To the extent congressional Republicans plan to rediscover their inner conservative selves, this enhanced ideological uniformity will serve them well. The caucus of House conservatives, the Republican Study Committee, stands to gain clout within the House Republican circles.

Republicans in the Senate, meanwhile, will be tempted to write off Tuesday’s losses as the consequence of a perfect political storm that aided Democrats and, in any event, was not as bad as might have been expected. If they ever want to regain the majority, that would be a mistake. The more prudent course of action would be to go back to basics, re-learn the core principles of conservatism, and apply them to the enormous policy challenges that lie ahead.

And that brings me to the second observation.

The exit polls, to the extent they can be believed, remind us once again that America remains a decisively right-of-center nation. Liberal remains a dirty word. In fact, many more Americans continue to self-identify as conservative (34 percent) than as liberal (only 22 percent). Knowing this, successful Democratic candidates across the country used conservative rhetoric and themes to score points against their Republican opponents and win the hearts of voters. The Democrats’ repeated refrain on behalf of middle class tax relief was but one of several such examples.

Little wonder then that 20 percent of conservatives (and 60 percent of moderates) actually voted for Senator Obama. Undoubtedly, Republican strategists will invest considerable time in the months ahead deciphering exactly why this is the case. Conservative strategists, in turn, will ponder why it has become so easy for liberal candidates to don the rhetoric and values of modern conservatism on the campaign trail and then shed it upon assuming office with no discernable consequence.

Michael G. Franc is vice president of government relations for the Heritage Foundation.

Jonah Goldberg
When asked if he’d run for office again, Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York City, responded: “No! The people of New York threw me out of office, and now they must be punished.” The American voters threw out the Republican party, and they were largely right to. At least in the sense that the GOP deserves to be punished. The problem is that the Democrats do not deserve to win. More on that at NRO later — and by later, I mean the next 2 to 8 years.