Assessing the Republican Strategy

About 10 days ago, I attended part of the Republican National Committee's winter meeting here in Washington. I talked only to a fraction of the ...
by | February 9, 2009
 

Steele About 10 days ago, I attended part of the Republican National Committee's winter meeting here in Washington. I talked only to a fraction of the state party chairs and RNC members who were there, but I was nonetheless struck by the near-total uniformity of answers people gave me when I asked about the party's future.

Republicans had to do a better job of getting their message out and needed to update their use of technology in doing so, all agreed. But they also stressed that their message was sound and continued to have broad popular appeal. That message is strong fiscal conservatism, limited government and support for families.

One or two were willing to engage me in talking about how demographic shifts have helped the Democrats, or about how the GOP was under threat of becoming a regional, rather than a national, party.

For the most part, though, they sounded to my ears surprisingly upbeat. They had lost dozens of seats in Congress in the last election and suffered their worst presidential defeat since 1964, yet they believed that, freed from the unpopular Bush, they could stick to their Reagan-era guns and make a comeback.

The Washington Post today ran a story along these lines, saying that congressional Republicans believe they have found their footing in saying "no" to the stimulus.

"We're so far ahead of where we thought we'd be at this time," said Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), one of several younger congressmen seeking to lead the party's renewal. "It's not a sign that we're back to where we need to be, but it's a sign that we're beginning to find our voice. We're standing on our core principles, and the core principle that suffered the most in recent years was fiscal conservatism and economic liberty. That was the tallest pole in our tent, and we took an ax to it, but now we're building it back."

I read that story this morning and thought -- didn't these guys lose? The Democrats certainly curried favor by opposing Bush -- but Obama's poll numbers are terrific while Bush's were abysmal. Is just saying no and insisting on a purer version of the ideas you've long touted really a winning strategy for the out-party?

Gallup just put out a poll showing Obama beating Republicans on the stimulus issue by a better than 2-to-1 margin.

I'm skeptical. I think the GOP needs a new message -- one that reflects some internal thinking about how times have changed and acknowledges the mistakes the party has made. And also one that is more strategic about opposing big government at the very moment big government is making a big comeback.

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