Still reeling from their losses last November, the GOP shows no signs of being any closer to defining its midterm election themes than it was last November 5th.
Although it may be too soon for the party to evidence preparation for the '10 midterm elections, it isn't too soon to suggest what it will take for the GOP to regain seats in the House and Senate.
First, it will take new congressional leadership. It's said that generals tend to fight the next war the way they fought the last. If the GOP fights the midterms the way it fought the '08 general election, the outcome will be repeated in defeat.
The congressional leaders in '08 were Congressman John Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell. They need to be replaced by younger, fresher faces that represent the GOP's future. And, the sooner that happens, the better for the party. They weren't responsible for defeat; they just happened to be in the command tent at the surrender.
They jury's still out on RNC Chairman Michael Steele's effectiveness. Today, he's zero for two, having foolishly picked a fight with Rush Limbaugh and then separated himself from the anti-abortion wing of the party with comments about his personal pro-abortion beliefs.
Perhaps we can chalk Steele's missteps up to his media inexperience, but he twice fell into the trap where he alienated those within his own party. He doesn't seem to realize that one of the lead items on the liberal media's agenda is to drive a wedge between the conservative and "moderate" wings of the GOP. Steele's best course is to concentrate on organizing the party and staying under the media radar. One more major mistake and he could be out of a job.
The philosophy of an army, or a political party, defines its mission. And defining that philosophy is a primary function of leadership. The GOP today is leaderless. Consequently, it lacks a definitive ideology. That is its most serious problem. It will only solve that problem with the perception, and the reality, of new faces and voices up front.
Secondly, new congressional leadership will need to establish and maintain party discipline. George Washington said that discipline is the soul of an army. It's also the soul of a successful political party.
The GOP lacks discipline. At times, Republican moderates seem more at odds with Republican conservatives than with liberal Democrats, and vice versa.
It is the absence of party discipline that's behind the primary impediment to success for the GOP in the 2010 midterm election. Namely, the GOP can't claim to be innocent of contributing to our current economic trauma.
The Democrats disassociated themselves from the Iraq War and cannot share in its success. Likewise, from 2001-2006, the Republicans chose not to push hard to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Consequently, the GOP shares in the economic meltdown for which those two GSEs' failures served as primary catalysts.
In his book entitled Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse (Foreword by Ron Paul), Thomas E. Woods Jr. wrote that, despite continued warnings of an impending implosion of Fannie and Freddie, "...Democrats in Congress continued to shelter Fannie from oversight, and Republican leadership took no action." The "no action" was a sin of omission rather than commission, but a political sin nonetheless.
By the midterm elections, resurrecting the debate over who's at fault for the Fannie and Freddie debacle will have little-to-no impact on voters. By then, it'll be ancient history.
GOP complicity in the current economic ordeal extends beyond the initial collapse. Republicans helped pass the original $700bn bailout bill (65 House Republicans voted "Yes" in the final vote along with 30 GOP Senators), the Stimulus Bill (made bipartisan by "Yea" votes from 3 GOP Senators), and the earmark-laden, FY2009 Omnibus Spending Bill (made bipartisan by "Yea" votes from 16 GOP House members and 8 Republican Senators voting on the matter of suspending debate on the bill. The Senate bill passed on a voice vote.).
Like the driver of the get-away car at a bank robbery that went bad and resulted in a homicide, the GOP shares the guilt for murder. It helped facilitate the crime.
Republicans running against other Republicans in their party primaries will likely remind voters if their incumbent colleagues voted for more spending and bigger government. For example, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is preparing to challenge Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry for his job. Expect Perry backers to refer to her as "Kay Bailout Hutchison" during what promises to be a heated primary race; in fact, it's already happening.
So, the GOP's first challenge is new leadership and, second, party discipline.
Third, and most challenging, the GOP will need to articulate a political philosophy that stands counter to that which will, by 2010, be firmly established by the Obama administration. If the Obama-Democrat narrative arc (one of candidate Obama's favorite concepts) continues to evolve as it's begun, it will be one of higher taxes, greater public debt, larger government and, inevitably, increased inflation.
Countering that narrative arc shouldn't be difficult, but it's not the content of the philosophy that will only matter. Success will also depend on the effectiveness of delivery. And today, the GOP leadership is neither articulate nor compelling when it speaks to the voters.
In 2010, the Great Determiner for the GOP's midterm results may well be the state of the economy. But, and this is perhaps the most important concept that should be considered by the party as it prepares for the midterm elections, it cannot rely on a still-troubled economy to guarantee its election success.
Republicans should select new leadership, clearly redefine their party's beliefs, and prepare for the midterm elections based on the blue sky assumption that the economy will either be in full recovery, or in a recession remission that appears to be a recovery. (Although I confess that I expect neither will be the case, but, instead, anticipated greater difficulties ahead.)
Another way of stating this third point is this: If the GOP relies on there being a still-troubled economy to win the midterm elections, it could be very badly mistaken. It should build a case to the voters that will be compelling regardless of the state of the economy in November 2010.
[Hat tip: American Thinker reader "Makarios," who, on March 13, in response to my article concerning the Obama administration's anticipated midterm election themes, asked for another piece addressing the GOP's counteroffer to the voters.]