Republicans need fresh ideas, not a savior
The GOP could rebuild by grooming conceptual thinkers in foreign policy.
The Republican Party is in a free fall because as the song says, it's been "looking for love in all the wrong places."Skip to next paragraph
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The United States needs an intelligent, loyal party in opposition. Without it, democracy atrophies. Yet the GOP seems unable to fulfill this crucial role. Its years in the majority made it susceptible to arrogance and greed, and today it's a party depleted of the fresh ideas, civility, and wisdom it desperately needs for a revival. After Sen. Arlen Specter's defection, it also risks being depleted of the strength to stop any Democratic legislation.
In such a state, it's tempting to look for a single character to resurrect the party's fortunes. But Republicans don't need a savior as much as they need a cash crop of ideas. The GOP was born of a truly virtuous idea – the abolition of human slavery – and it was repeatedly reborn over the years out of new visions.
Innovative solutions and seriousness of purpose should be the keynotes of its renewal. Instead, its leading figures act frivolously.
Texas is one of the party's few strongholds. Yet instead of hearing about fresh policy innovations there, we hear Republican Gov. Rick Perry complaining about the stimulus package and talking about his state's right to secede. The party of Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan doesn't need whiners when times get tough.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin could win a charm contest, but she almost surely diminished John McCain's prospects of winning the presidential election. Her grasp of public policy is embarrassingly modest for someone of such ambition.
Perhaps the most formidable potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012 is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He seems determined to run: He's writing book after book, popping up on TV talk shows, and making the rounds of fundraising dinners.
Gingrich is erudite, perhaps the best Republican mind since President Richard Nixon. But after three marriages and an extramarital affair, his personal character is a political drag. He's tried to put the issue behind him, appearing on Dr. James Dobson's radio show in 2007 to apologize for being unfaithful. And this spring, he sought a fresh religious start by converting to Roman Catholicism.
In this permissive age, his greatest liability may be his divisiveness. The late President Gerald Ford once told me he thought Gingrich betrayed the party with an abrasive leadership style as speaker. Of Gingrich and House Republican leaders, he said: "Those guys are out only for themselves. They don't care a damn for the country."