The 2008 election cycle left Republicans in a difficult place. At the federal level and mostly at the state level, Republicans got pounded. The GOP is now struggling to figure out where to go from here.
The party has been dealing with internal conflict for some time. There are a few major factions. Social conservatives are the most obvious one. Fiscal conservatives used to be at the core but have mostly vanished. Neocons were a growing component but that set of views is now seen as dubious by many and the cause of the party's recent downfall.
Going forward, some see Sarah Palin as the future, while others blame her at least in part for the 2008 disaster. Congressman Ron Paul's presidential run inspired many volunteers, drew surprising funding, and even got some press, but he and his movement are viewed by disdain by the mainstream leadership.
There is a fundamental problem with the Republican Party today. Elected Republicans forgot what the GOP is supposed to stand for. Or they never really cared. For decades Republicans were the fiscally responsible ones. Democrats were reckless spenders -- "tax-and-spend liberals." By contrast then, Republicans were presumably more careful about spending. Perhaps this was never true, but it was the image.
President George W. Bush and his partisan allies in Congress have blown this image apart. The last Clinton budget in FY 2001 was $1.8 Trillion. Bush's last budget is $3.2 Trillion, and that's before the bailouts. When you include the bailouts, Bush will have doubled spending in just eight years. Other problems contributed to the decline, such as earmark abuse during the Republican-controlled Congress, lobbying scandals like the Abramoff fiasco, and the string of socially conservative officials caught in immoral behavior (Larry Craig and Mark Foley).
Many Republicans recognize the need to address these problems. But they seem lost as to how. One fledgling group, Rebuild the Party (rebuildtheparty.com), talks about tactics but shows no recognition of the underlying policies that led the party faithful to lose faith.
Perhaps it would help win some elections if Republicans used the internet better, raised more money, etc. But imagine if the Republican Party actually stood for something.
Like him or not, Barack Obama has clearly defined positions. He supports unions and is not fond of trade. Republicans, in theory, oppose unions and support free trade, but when it’s politically convenient they cave to the unions. The steel tariffs early in the Bush administration are a prime example.
Are Republicans tough on crime? The economic meltdown has its roots in a wide variety of financial crimes that have been ignored by the Justice Department and Republicans in Congress. Many of the bad mortgages involved fraud-prone “income-stated no-doc” loans. There has also been a substantial problem with bogus appraisals. There is also some question about how loans were securitized.
Maybe it has been easier to prosecute poor illegal immigrants along with poor minorities caught up in the drug war, but that’s not solving any problems. The so-called War on Terror may sound good but it’s far from clear that we’re accomplishing anything and all this stuff costs money – money we don’t seem to have any more.
On the bright side, Obama and the Democrats now have to govern. We've left them with a difficult situation and we'll see how they do with it. They will define themselves now. Republicans can move forward by opposing the Democrats' worst excesses. That might be the easy way out. It would be nice if the GOP would figure out what it stands for and stick with it.