How Do Republicans Rebuild?

I confess that I haven't read all the many, many articles and blog posts wondering whither the GOP, but I've seen enough to ...
by | November 13, 2008

Tim Pawlenty I confess that I haven't read all the many, many articles and blog posts wondering whither the GOP, but I've seen enough to be surprised that the much-anticipated circular firing squad doesn't appear to be happening. A couple of House GOP leaders have stepped down, but not their top leader. And we haven't yet seen widespread finger-pointing between the anti-taxers and the social conservatives and the few remaining party moderates.

Perhaps one reason is that the party appears to be trying to look forward rather than backward. The attention Sarah Palin has been getting in recent days is part of that. Instead of McCain rehashing, we have her seeking to rebuild her image with an eye toward other offices, whether the Senate or the White House. We'll keep an eye on that.

More broadly, though, there seems to a dawning awareness that the party needs to expand its reach. So far, this hasn't been specific enough to lead to intraparty fights.

There's the problem of geography, for one -- the South and the wheat-growing states do not a national party make, as Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty pointed out yesterday at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Florida.

"We cannot be a majority governing party when we essentially cannot compete in the Northeast, we are losing our ability to compete in Great Lakes states, we cannot compete on the West Coast, we are increasingly in danger of competing in the mid-Atlantic states, and the Democrats are now winning some of the Western states," Pawlenty said. "That is not a formula for being a majority governing party in this nation."

Pawlenty also recognized that the party can't write off minorities, a familiar enough statement but one that is certain to become more urgent in the face of the Obama coalition.

The fights will come as the party turns to the question of how to address issues it hasn't liked, such as global warming.

As for the way back, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said the governors have a chance to show how to apply Republican principles of fiscal conservatism and smaller government to practical problems. He said they should concentrate on "issues that really matter" to voters, such as education, energy, the environment and health care.

It will be fascinating if Republican governors can truly step into the role of thoughtful pragmatists in the years ahead, coming up with salable ideas while the congressional minority plays defense as best it can. Certainly there are more pragmatists in the gubernatorial ranks than in the remaining GOP caucuses on the Hill.

For all the speculation along these lines that we've been hearing it's hard to think of an idea arising from the GOP governors to rival their predecessors' takes on crime and welfare during the 1990s. But we'll give them some time.


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