Can the GOP dominate in November with 'Just say no'?

Probably not. Two of the GOP's most senior elected officials – Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham – said Sunday their party needs an agenda attractive to voters critical of both parties.

By , Staff Writer

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    Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain at President Obama's first State of the Union Address in January. Graham and McCain say the GOP needs an agenda attractive to voters critical of both parties.
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'Just say no' might have worked for Republicans during the first year-plus of President Obama’s stint in the White House. But can it propel them to dominance in this fall’s elections?

Probably not, judging by comments Sunday from two of the GOP’s most senior elected officials – Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Republicans have been basking in the good news about November’s elections from pollsters and analysts. They’re projected to come within a few seats of taking over the House, and even the Senate is now within the realm of serious discussion by pundits and pollsters.

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“I think this could be a seismic election,” Sen. McCain told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday.

“But we've got to give Americans a reason to be for us, rather than just against the Democrats and the president,” he said. “When you look at the approval ratings of Republicans, they're just as bad as Democrats. We've got to give [voters] a reason to be for us.”

(Though they don’t think Obama is doing a great job on the economy, Americans are more inclined to blame Republicans than Democrats for the current economic state of affairs, according to a CNN survey.)

On NBC’s Meet the Press, Sen. Graham said essentially the same thing as McCain.

“I think what we have to do is to come up with a uniting agenda, sort of a Contract with America,” he said, referring to the plan put forth by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich that helped win the GOP big gains and control of the House in 1994. “Going forward, [we need to] show the American people that the Republican Party can govern.”

There’s actually something like the 1994 “Contract” out there.

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, senior Republican on the House Budget Committee, has laid out a 99-page “Roadmap for America’s Future.”

Among other things, it would reduce personal income taxes, end the corporate income tax and the estate tax, and privatize some of Social Security.

Critics say it “calls for radical policy changes that would result in a massive transfer of resources from the broad majority of Americans to the nation’s wealthiest individuals.”

Ryan’s “Roadmap” didn’t get many cosponsors, and Democrats no doubt would have had a field day with certain provisions – like the one ending the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (or rather replacing SCHIP with something else, which is harder to explain in a sound bite).

What McCain and Graham have in mind, they say, would include a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, extending the Bush tax cuts to wealthy Americans, and replacing what critics call “Obamacare” with a different health care reform law.

Then there’s the “tea party” movement, which is as much libertarian as it is traditionally conservative and can be as cranky toward mainstream Republicans as it can toward Democrats. This makes it harder for the GOP to come up with an agenda designed to attract independents and some Democrats.

Not many Republicans will be openly critical of this new political insurgency and the problems it may be causing for the GOP. Graham is an exception.

“The problem with the Tea Party, I think it's just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country,” he told the New York Times. “We don't have a lot of Reagan-type leaders in our party. Remember Ronald Reagan Democrats? I want a Republican that can attract Democrats. Ronald Reagan would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today.”

GOP leaders know they need to do something about their perceived lack of a coherent agenda (if not a vision).

The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday that they’re “preparing a new campaign manifesto that will be unveiled this month, to answer charges that they offer no credible alternative except to recycle the unpopular policies of the Bush administration.”

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