Endangered Species

It occurs to me that the Big Three automakers and the Republican Party have a lot in common. Essentially, both institutions have been run by a cadre of the shortsighted and insulated who believed they had all the answers and didn’t have to change with the times.

Jonathan Martin writes at The Politico that the GOP is split between the Old Guard, who thinks the past two elections were just a speed bump, no course correction needed; and the new guys, who are scared stiff and want an overhaul.

Haley Barbour, definitely an Old Guard type, had some interesting things to say.

Barbour, speaking on a panel session at the Republican Governor’s Association meeting in Miami devoted to sifting through this year’s electoral destruction, recalled serving as executive director of his state party in the aftermath of President Nixon’s resignation, when Democrats elected 49 “Watergate Babies” to the House in 1974.

It got so bad, Barbour recalled, that there was a task force set up to consider whether Republicans should change their name.

It’s true that the GOP took a beating in the 1974 midterms, post-Watergate. In 1976 the Dems took back the White House, but in an election much closer than the one we just had. In 1976 the Dems gained only one seat in the House, and although some Senate seats changed from one party to the other, the balance in the Senate remained the same as before.

So, for the Republicans, 2006 and 2008 put together were worse than 1974 and 1976 put together.

And the Republican brand wasn’t nearly as damaged after Watergate as it is now, IMO. Because during the Watergate crisis we all saw Republicans who kept their heads, acknowledged that Nixon was off the wall, and put aside partisanship for the good of the country.

Sure, the Republican Party protected Nixon for a while, until it became obvious he really had abused the power of his office and that the facts were going to come out sooner or later. But then most Republicans did something you hardly ever see Republicans doing today — the honorable thing. Millions of Americans watched at least part of the Watergate hearings on television, and those Americans saw Republicans in the Senate and House asking tough questions of the administration. There was not the solid wall of spin, lies, smears and double-talk the GOP puts up around its own today.

If anything, the 1974 and 1976 elections were an artificial boost for the Dems. The Dem Party was still hemorrhaging white voters because of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs. Watergate created a unique circumstance that only temporarily slowed the ascendancy of Republicans.

Today’s Old Guard Republicans think that their recent losses came about because of unique circumstances. If we stay the course, basically keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll come out of this OK, they say. Jonathan Martin continues,

As for this year, Barbour argued there was a way to defeat Obama—by rendering him unacceptable to American voters.

“And the McCain campaign did not choose to try to make that argument,” he observed.

Somebody explain to me what other argument the McCain campaign did choose to make. I must have missed it.

RNC Chairman Mike Duncan, who has worked at the highest levels of Kentucky and national Republican politics for decades, expressed optimism about the GOP’s prospects for the 2010 mid-term elections, suggesting the GOP losses this year were a result of a toxic stew very much unique to the cycle.

“The mood of the country is what was bad in this campaign,” Duncan said in an interview at the governor’s meeting. “It was 90-10 wrong track, you had the war, we had the economy going south on us, we had the third-term curse, all those things.”

What it was not, he insisted—offering post-election polling that showed voters still supported right-leaning positions, just not McCain, to make his case—was a rejection of the party’s conservative philosophy.

“If you look at the American electorate, and where they stand and what they believe—we’re in good shape.”

I keep reading just the opposite is true; that nearly every demographic and opinion trend is moving away from the GOP. See also Billmon, “Tomorrow Belongs to We.”

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is in the Young Upstart GOP faction.

“We cannot be a majority governing party when we essentially cannot compete in the northeast; we are losing our ability to compete in the Great Lakes states, we cannot compete on the west coast,” Pawlenty argued, also citing similar problems in the mid-Atlantic and interior west. “Similarly, we cannot compete and prevail as a majority governing party when we have a significant deficit as we do with woman, where we have a large deficit with Hispanics, where we have a large deficit with African-American voters, where we have a large deficit with people of modest incomes.” …

… Later, talking to reporters, Pawlenty put it more plainly: “The Republican Party is going to need more than just a comb-over.”

Comb-over. Heh. But according to Martin, even the Young Upstarts aren’t calling for an ideological shift. They just think the party ought to actually address real problems. Expect the 2012 election to be held in a tar pit.

The Grand Old Party

6 thoughts on “Endangered Species

  1. The institutions of Big Business and American Government encourage extreme short sightedness. There’s a structural bias against long-term planning since it won’t win you the next election 2 years or 4, down the road.

  2. I thought the McCain message was clear as glass: “Vote for me because the other guy is a poopy-head.” With all due respect to Haley Barbour, the argument that they did not choose to try to make was “why McCain.” It’s hard to make that argument when you are 100% negative.

  3. I’d hesitate before making any grand pronouncement of the death of the GOP. I mean it was 4 years ago that they “had a mandate” and 8 years ago that Rove was discussing his “permanent majority”.

    Things will swing back and forth. The GOP will undoubtedly change, as will the Democratic party. This election has much potential to undo some of the damage… but most of the crowing or lamenting is self-important noise, just like it was in 2004.

  4. Vetting Hillary.

    So what’s happening here? Does Obama really want Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State? He wouldn’t be so obviously vetting her… and Bill… if he didn’t.

    Or is this a ply to put a public cover on something else. He has met with Bill Richardson, who really wants the State post, so we are told. Maybe putting this focus on what Bill Clinton would bring to Hillary’s appointment is a way to keep the focus off looking at Richardson… while finding a reason to keep Hillary out of the Administration (while looking like you really want her to please her supporter.)

    Or maybe this is just to keep Bush from dominating the airwaves. Who knows?

    Under The LobsterScope

  5. I think Obama wants her, but wants to make sure there isn’t anything that will allow the repugs to turn her appointment into a three ring circus.

  6. I said this elsewhere but so what, it’s pertinent. Obama wants Hillary (and thus in a sense Bill) ‘close’ where he can control her. (SoS is about as ‘close’ as one can get.) Loose, she and Bill intend to launch her presidential campaign for 2012 next year by referring covertly and/or overtly to the Obama presidency as a failed presidency – and Hill is ready to take the reins that she should have held in the first place. It’s highly likely that Obama’s presidency, given the messes facing him, will barely be off the ground as early as next year so the Clinton scheme may well work.

    (Anyone who thinks the Clintons will take her defeat lying down has been drinking the kool-aid.)

    Thinking about Obama, he seems to subscribe to the advice to keep one’s friends close and one’s enemies even closer as he puts together his advisors etc. The Clintons and their toadies are dangerous on the loose, which I believe is the reason Obama seems to be bringing them into the fold. The guy is beyond shrewd.

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