Returning to National Greatness: How the GOP can reinvent itself

May 16, 2008

TPT offers some advice to the elephant

The Republican party seems to be in turmoil with a combination of poor congressional ratings and a shocking results in Mississippi producing a crisis of confidence that has seen the ravings of Ron Paul climb to the top of the bookseller charts. Given that every person with access to a computer has written about the direction the Republican party should be taking, I am going to outline my suggestions on what the Republican party should do. It might seem strange that a left-of-centre Brit, who is definitely not any sort of conservative, is giving advice to the GOP, but I would contend that the amount of money that I have staked on Obama not being president, and the small amount that I have on the Republicans retaking Congress makes my motivations more straightforward that those of other commentators. In any case distance from the subject has never stopped me before so it is not going to stop me now.

The first thing that the Republican party needs to do is to move to the centre on economic issues. The Democrats, even though they have been dominated by the left, have managed to gain a huge advantage on the economy, healthcare and taxation. Indeed, had September 11th not increased the importance of national security, and unleashed the forces that would move the Democrats sharply to the left, the Republican party would have lost badly in 2002 and a Democrat would now be occupying the White House. Even the Republican magazines were disgusted with the ‘no-government anarchism’ of Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and Ron Paul when it dominated the Republican debates in the fall of 2004. Economic conservatism might have got some traction in the 70s and 80s when taxes were sky high, but they now seem like an anachronism in an age of increasing inequality. By all means the Republican party should remain an opponent of wasteful spending and a supporter of free trade, since these are good for society whatever philosophy you support, but it should recognise that the government needs to play a more active role in healthcare and education.

The Republican party also needs to stop treating people like Newt Gingrich with reverence. Although he occasionally has a few good ideas, such as his support for a McCain/Lieberman ticket, he is extremely unpopular in the country at large. Indeed, the latest poll gave Newt Gingrich a net approval rating of -27%. Similarly, although it may break the heart of Andrew Sullivan, Barry Goldwater should not be a model for the modern Republican party, unless they want to experience a repeat of 1964. Although many people believe that Bush was unpopular because he departed from ‘conservative’ (or more accurately paleo-libertarian) principles, the inconvenient truth is that it was precisely those departures (Iraq, No Child Left Behind) that have made him a middle-ranking president, as opposed to one of the worst. Even if one ignores the fact that the policies of the libertarian and conservative philosopher kings of the Republican Party are both unpopular and unworkable, their ‘leave us alone’ philosophy on guns directly runs against their distaste for immigrants and their love for limited government and the market runs against their support for attempts to find loopholes to the antitrust laws.

In essence the Republicans need to re-read David Brook’s 1997 essay, ‘A Return to National Greatness: A Manifesto for a Lost Creed’. In this David Brooks argues for a several key principles, ‘limited but energetic government, full-bore Americanism, active foreign policy, big national projects (such as the Panama Canal and the national parks), and efforts to smash cozy arrangements (like the trusts) that retarded dynamic meritocracy’. In essence this means a more socially conservative version of the Blairite/DLC agenda. Of course, you could argue that it has been Bush’s pursuit of this agenda that has got the GOP in these straits. However, it is not Bush’s foreign policy that is the reason that he is at twenty eight percent in the pollster.com polling averages, it has been his departure from it. This was illustrated in the 2004 exit polls where Bush beat Kerry by nearly twenty points (59.5 vs 40.2) among voters who were concerned about foreign policy (National Security and Iraq) but lost by a whopping 33% with those who focused more on domestic issues (Healthcare, Education and Taxes).

Indeed, the triumph of the anti-war and anti-everything wing of the Democratic party has opened an opportunity for the Republicans to capture the centre ground, as has the emergence, in Barack Obama, of a Democratic candidate who not only seems determined to drive a wedge between the generations but is more likely to nod his head to Jeremiah Wright’s rantings than view his country as a force for good. When even someone like Hillary Clinton is held to be too right-wing and too wedded to middle America for the Democratic party, you know that something is wrong. Of course, it is important to remember that there are potential flaws. This strategy should not be an imitation of David Cameron or Boris Johnson’s peculiar amalgam or elitism, isolationist (and in Boris Johnson’s case) racism. It also should be noted that ‘full-bore Americanism’ in this context means a celebration of a ‘shinning city on a hill’ and positive action to welcome immigrants out of the shadows of the underground economy into the American family, rather than a xenophobic immigration policy or the unwholesome dog whistling that Hillary Clinton and the North Carolina GOP have been engaged in. In essence this means combining the populism and honour of John McCain, combined with Giuliani’s optimism and Lieberman’s principled stance on foriegn policy and family values.



  1. What you’re suggesting is that the Republican Party surrender 30 years of economic and social policy to the Democrats. This will be viewed as a McCain coup d’etat of the Republican Party, and it will be completely rejected by loyalist.

    While I agree that such changes would probably be good for the party in the long-run, there’s no way it’ll work during an election year (not even against Obama). Only if Hillary’s name were on the ballot would the party be willing to rally behind McCain under such circumstances, but the fact is that all the dirt the RNC has thrown at Obama (Rev. Wright, his “bitter” comments, flag-pins) are ultimately petty trivialities that are not gonna win them this election. They’ve already seen this three times in special elections and in North Carolina, (and perhaps most-importantly in the Democratic primary once Hillary played the race card from South Carolina-onward).

    The future of the Republican Party will never be through a McCain-Giuliani-Lieberman trifecta. Believe it or not, but the Republican Party is as important as Jesus Christ to some of it’s members. Politics is just an appendage of their religious beliefs, and they’re gonna carry those views to the grave.

    Only another Clinton could assuage them.

  2. Jack is on to something, we all remember the young American military officer during Vietnam who was standing beside a burning Village and responded to the question of “why did you burn the village?” saying “we had to destroy it to save it from Communism”. In order to “save” the Republican Party from moderation Jack and his pals will destroy it.
    GO TO IT!!!!!!!!!

  3. If the GOP moves to the center on economic issues the Party will lose completely it’s free market wing. The Libertarian Party is getting stronger each day. And with fmr. Congressman Bob Barr now running as the Party’s Presidential candidate, the GOP risks losing millions of votes this year, if it “moves to the center” as you propose.

    That is precisely the wrong course for the GOP. That’s what got them in so much trouble. Rather, the GOP needs to move hard right on economics, and center on social issues. The Party needs to become more hip, youth-oriented, and ditch the religious right.

    In short, the Republican Party needs to become the Party of Boris Johnson.

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