Do Republicans have a 'Yes, we can'?
They can still be for limited government, but the kind that also creates opportunities.
Barack Obama's ability to pass new laws will hinge in part on how much Republicans in Congress, now in a cloth-rending funk, refashion themselves. Without a honest look in the mirror, the GOP could be in the wilderness for years. Or it could reshape itself, as Britain's Conservatives have.Skip to next paragraph
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To be sure, the election wasn't a total rout for Republicans despite Mr. Obama's Electoral College landslide. John McCain earned 46 percent of the vote, more than Bill Clinton did in 1992. The party's loss of House seats was less than expected while it still has enough senators to muster a filibuster.
But it will be a party out of power and one that cannot keep riding this elephant in the direction it's been going. Republicans have too many splits, from libertarians in the West to social conservatives in the South to Rockefeller moderates in the Northeast.
No wonder a "maverick" was able to win the nomination, slipping through those political cracks. The GOP is now at risk of becoming a white, rural party whose core geographic base stretches only from Georgia to Idaho.
To regain traction, it must re-invent itself as a party of hope and of ideas relevant to a wider range of Americans. To do so, it must reject the partisan conservative media that peddles in political stereotypes and personal venom. It cannot fall into the trap of being only an opposition party whose primary focus is designing "wedge" issues, such as a call for more offshore oil drilling, in order simply to split Democrats.
Right now, a finger-pointing debate has started among Republicans about the mistakes that McCain made in his campaign and George W. Bush made as president. That backward-looking discussion can go only so far. A conservative movement needs forward momentum by employing fresh ideas.
The GOP brand has been reduced to one word – freedom – in the way that the Democrats were stuck with the one-dimensional brand of equality. But if there is one reason for Obama's victory, it is that he seeks to move his party, and the country, toward that classic American brand: opportunity.
If Republicans want a comeback, they could become the loyal opposition that debates Democrats on the best way to create more opportunities for Americans, allowing them to increase their social mobility through hard work and education.
The party can still be for limited government, but a government effective in providing tools to support innovation and entrepreneurship.
In Britain, where the Tory Party has been out of power for years, Conservatives hope this concept will be their ticket back.
"The center right understands that society and the economy are both made up of the same thing: people," states Conservative leader David Cameron. "You need to get the incentives right, get the framework right, and give people responsibility to do the right thing."
Mr. Cameron also sees a government role in fixing broken society: "We have seen a decades-long erosion of responsibility, of social virtue, of self-discipline, respect for others, deferring gratification."
Reinventing the GOP won't be easy. But American democracy needs a strong conservative party. With a freshening of ideas, Republicans could eventually become the comeback kids.