GOP's national nightmare

Stu Rothenberg says Bush's departure is light at end of GOP tunnel.


Thomas Schaller
November 12, 2008 2:01AM (UTC)

Well, I might as well stay fixated on the subject, discussed in earlier posts, of what the future of the Republican Party will be.

Next up? Some thoughts from Stu Rothenberg, one of the sharpest and most sober political analysts in town, in his lastest column:

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Some will predict the end of the GOP. Others will merely consign it to minority party status for years because of demographic changes.

I know that this will happen because I've seen it before: each time a party has suffered big losses, frustration boils over. It happened after the 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1994 elections ...

While the near term is not rosy for Republicans, party members will now be able to turn the page, on what was tantamount to a four-year election cycle.

Maybe President Bush wasn't responsible entirely for high gasoline prices, a mortgage foreclosure and financial crisis, Republican ethics lapses on Capitol Hill, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and a seemingly endless litany of depressing news stories. But the GOP was never going to recover its standing until the Bush years ended. Tuesday night marked the beginning of the end.

Now, Republicans will be able to slide back into a role in which they are more comfortable -- as the "out" party criticizing Democrats for expanding government, spending excessively and promoting a liberal cultural agenda. And they can return to their core beliefs and traditional messages of fiscal responsibility, a strong defense and traditional values.

Of course, Republican poll numbers will not improve quickly... But at least Republicans have taken the first step to recovery.

My only counterpoint to Stu would be this: This first step to recovery was not one taken affirmatively, decidedly. After all, Bush was going to be leaving the scene, thanks to the 22nd Amendment, no matter what.

The GOP needs to do something more, something it only did in a passive way, and mostly through silence, this past year: It needs to openly rebuke Bush.

While he's still in the Oval Office, it may be unseemly and discourteous, fine. But after Jan. 20, Republicans must make a point not to just get beyond the Bush era because the clock ran out on it but because they are turning away from him, his philosophy of government, his mismanagement record, his destruction of our constitutional principles, and his brusque treatment of our allies. Otherwise, we are permitted to conclude that the Republicans simply do not understand what a failure the president they once hailed has become, and thus cannot be trusted to avoid repeating his mistakes in the future when they are asking to be restored to power.

Merely waiting for Bush to slink back to Crawford is insufficient demonstration that Republicans fully understand the nature and scale of the damage. In fact, I would bet that the candidate who can sufficiently articulate that critique (especially if s/he can do so without alienating conservatives) will have a solid, inside track toward the 2012 nomination.


Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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