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While it's easy (and fun, no doubt) to watch Karl Rove and the tea party battle it out over who gets to waste money and lead the party to their next big defeat, it's not so easy to get a sense of where Republicans are going. That's because they are literally out of ideas, and can only offer slogans and retread speeches (with Marco Rubio, in Spanish, but no less bereft of ideas).

Gene Robinson notes this ironically, with a comparison to a Reaganesque conservative icon:

In his bid to be remembered as a transformational leader, President Obama is following the playbook of an ideological opposite, Margaret Thatcher. First you win the argument, she used to say, then you win the vote.
In fact, since Republicans can't give up on Ronald Reagan (he won! To Republicans, that's everything you need to know) and despite the fact that Reagan would be rejected as a big government spender, many of the most mournful voices are Reagan-era Republicans, establishmentarians who have no current place at the tea party table. Here's Reagan biographer Craig Shirley discussing why Obama is winning the battle of ideas:
The GOP is hardly positioned to have that debate. What is left of the national party is a smoking hole in the ground with millions, possibly billions, of dollars wasted and establishmentarians lashing out against the very conservatives who helped build the party. Because Romney never understood conservatism, he could never explain to swing voters how a limited-government philosophy could make the country more secure and their lives better.
As you probably guessed, Romney wasn't a conservative and Bush was a big government spender, so how could they make the case for Reaganism? But how could anyone these days?

We'll take a closer look at the state of the GOP with Mike Gerson, Peter Wehner and others below the fold.

EJ Dionne notes the problem for the establishmentarians:

There is also the tale of Tommy Thompson, who as governor of Wisconsin in the 1990s tried to broaden health insurance coverage with his “BadgerCare” program. Early in the debate over Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Thompson called it “another important step” toward achieving reform.

Thompson had to eat those words when he sought the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate last year in the face of tea party opposition. The rebuke of Thompson from Chris Chocola, president of the conservative Club for Growth, was representative. “The world has changed since he was elected to office,” said Chocola, who had endorsed one of Thompson’s primary opponents. “Now we’re talking about how much less we’ll spend rather than how much more we’ll spend.” That was right-wing ideology speaking.

But there's more that ails the Republican Party, helpfully outlined by Bush-era stalwarts Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner in this Commentary piece:
The 2012 election was not only a dismal showing for the Republicans but the continuation of a dismal, 20-year trend. Out of the last six presidential elections, four have gone to the Democratic nominee, at an average yield of 327 electoral votes to 210 for the Republican. During the preceding two decades, from 1968 to 1988, Republicans won five out of six elections, averaging 417 electoral votes to the Democrats’ 113. In three of those contests, the Democrats failed to muster even 50 electoral votes.

What is the reason for this swift and stunning reversal of electoral fortunes? The answer lies in a variety of factors—and in their confluence.

Here, in a nutshell, is their analysis: Romney was awful compared to Bill Clinton's and Obama's political skills, the GOP has lost the Soviet Union and a position of strength in foreign policy [thanks to Bush and Iraq, poorly replaced by Sens. McCain and Graham on Benghazi - ed.], and their agenda fits the 1980s, not the 21st century. More:
In addition, on a number of these issues the Republican Party has developed a reputation—mostly but not completely unfair—as judgmental and retrograde. It didn’t help that, during last year’s primary season, one of the final two major candidates in the field (Rick Santorum) promised that if elected he would speak out against the damage done to American society by contraception, or that just prior to the general election, two ultimately failed candidates for the Senate spoke with stunning insensitivity about female victims of rape.

In combination, all these factors have left many in the GOP in a demoralized state, convinced that the challenges confronting them are not superficial, cyclical, or personality-oriented but that prevailing political forces, as well as prevailing public attitudes, present enormous obstacles to the national success of their party. They are right to be worried.

What do they need to do? A Sister Souljah moment with the tea party, say the authors. Commit to the middle class and reforming financial institutions (yes, Virginia, Occupy won the battle of ideas and 99 percent trumps 47 percent). Welcome immigrants. And commit to the common good (see EJ Dionne's Our Divided Political Heart for a history of that idea).

I have a suggestion for that Sister Souljah moment: John McCain can refudiate Sarah Palin as the worst possible decision made for his party and the country, and not in that order.

Will they listen? Well, that remains to be seen.

But as of right now, you can add a Republican failure of ideas to a Republican failure of technology and a Republican failure of polling.

I'm optimistic that eventually they can move forward. But that's a big hole to get out of, especially when you haven't stopped digging. And that, like E.J., makes me optimistic for a second term Congress that's a hairsbreadth more reasonable than the last two years. After all, even Republicans get that their current strategy isn't working.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (24+ / 0-)

    "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

    by Greg Dworkin on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 06:36:42 AM PST

  •  I have a suggestion for a GOP Sister Souljah (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    McCain can refudiate Sarah Palin as the worst possible decision made for his party and the country, and not in that order.

    "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

    by Greg Dworkin on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 06:47:11 AM PST

  •  On welcoming immigrants (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Some, at least, are making a start.  But they will have to deal with the bigoted base.

    "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

    by Navy Vet Terp on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 06:50:10 AM PST

    •  They are and will be stuck with... (3+ / 0-)

      ...slow and insufficient transitioning for many election cycles to come. As you say the base is the problem. Specifically that cadre of likely Caucus/Primary participants who are largely immune to the "wisdom" of building a new "Big Tent."

      No amount of money changes who those people are, or what their impulses and fervently held beliefs are. At the county and district level in many places, they aren't just the participating mob. They are the county chairs, parliamentarians, rules committee members.

      In short the armed guards against most systemic change.

      When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. --Martin Luther King Jr.

      by Egalitare on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 07:44:18 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  After 2004 or 1994 did the Right offer suggestions (0+ / 0-)

    on how we should run our campaigns? If they did, wouldn't you have been tempted to do the opposite? I dont undertand the point of the left offering solutions to the Right. If politics is like war with other means, would the Allies offer suggestions to the Axis on how to better employ tactics or strategy?

    "If the past sits in judgment on the present, the future will be lost." Winston Churchill

    by Kvetchnrelease on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 06:54:12 AM PST

  •  They have no ideas (2+ / 0-)

    No, I mean they have no ideas. What in the world could they come up with that the Democrats haven't already embraced?

    Women are the cause of their own rape?

    Democrats are largely fiscally conservative and socially liberal, and that's just how most of the people like things. But for a handful of aging males with extreme social agendae, there isn't anything the GOP can bring to the table which would even get polite applause.

    Because, whatever "it" is, Democrats pretty much already stand for "it". So you might as well vote in the Democrat instead of the re-invented Republican.

    Guns as self-defense insurance never were a magic bullet.

    by thenekkidtruth on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 07:01:33 AM PST

    •  Yeah, but... (0+ / 0-)

      there are still a lot of constituents of the Dem base that don't photograph well, especially on TV.  My Dad was a Roosevelt Dem for most of his life.  He only voted for one GOP president (Reagan in 1980, because Carter was just soooo bad).  He quickly repented in later elections.

      But,...he would try to watch the Dem convention and turn it off.  He couldn't handle the fringes of the party (feminists, gays and lesbians, hippies, and yes, to some degree, blacks).  For the most part, he held his nose and "voted for his union pocket-book", but he wasn't proud of it.

      As long as that attitude exists - and it may be gone in a couple decades, who knows - a softened GOP that co-opts some popular and innocuous Dem positions (remember Bush was the "Education President"?) will always have a chance for a comeback.

  •  bad start. CPAC just announced Palin as (5+ / 0-)

    one of 7 ultra con speakers. Rubio, Walker, Jebster, plus a few others.

    Not a good start for them.

    What we call god is merely a living creature with superior technology & understanding. If their fragile egos demand prayer, they lose that superiority.

    by agnostic on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 07:33:40 AM PST

  •  Why should they change? (2+ / 0-)

    The media has their backs - nothing can move forward until the yahoos say it can.
    Taking McCain as an example, he's wrong more often than not yet is still called upon as if he's a legitimate expert on an array of issues. Even if they are willing to forget the "I'm proud of Sarah Palin" shit (how I wish she would be indicted for something) the members of the media feel no obligation to remind John McCain that the Iraq war WAS the worst foreign policy decision since Vietnam. They just let him continue on as if he knows WTF he's talking about and headline his word as legitimate. It's all a game.

    Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up. A. A. Milne

    by hulibow on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 07:51:33 AM PST

  •  do click that Republican failure of technology (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CwV, vcmvo2, a2nite, MRA NY

    link. it's to Robert drapers superb Sunday Times magazine piece.

    "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

    by Greg Dworkin on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 08:20:13 AM PST

  •  Reaganism After Reagan: RAMESH PONNURU (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TODAY’S Republicans are very good at tending the fire of Ronald Reagan’s memory but not nearly as good at learning from his successes. They slavishly adhere to the economic program that Reagan developed to meet the challenges of the late 1970s and early 1980s, ignoring the fact that he largely overcame those challenges, and now we have new ones. It’s because Republicans have not moved on from that time that Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, in their responses to the State of the Union address last week, offered so few new ideas.

    "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

    by Greg Dworkin on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 08:43:10 AM PST

  •  Nate Cohn on Rubio (3+ / 0-)
    Senator Marco Rubio's quick ascent in Republican politics, as Jonathan Chait has pointed out, is the product of a convenient, simplistic electoral calculus: Mitt Romney lost partly because his opposition to immigration reform alienated an historic percentage of Latino voters. So who better to lead the GOP than Rubio, a charismatic Latino who promises to reverse the party's stance on immigration reform?

    It easy to see why this explanation, repeated by certain media outlets, appeals to Republicans, since it offers the hope of returning to the White House without caving on core conservative principles—and without the divisive soul-searching demanded by the likes of Rand Paul, Chris Christie, or Jon Huntsman. But it might not save them from defeat in 2016. The GOP's problems extend well beyond Latino voters, and the problems the party does have with Latino voters run far deeper than the ethnicity of GOP candidates or its stance on immigration reform. In fact, Rubio's appeal risks trapping the GOP within the coffin of the Bush coalition at a time when they need to figure out how to break out of it.

    "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

    by Greg Dworkin on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 08:57:39 AM PST

  •  Harry Enten on 2012 and Gerson_Wehner (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Field work may have put Obama over the top in Florida – the closest state in 2012. But even if a better field organization yielded Romney those 29 additional electoral votes, Obama still would have had a major win.

    The general point, though, is 2012, like most national elections, was mostly about the economy. A Mitt Romney victory would have actually been a surprise.

    So, what about the Gerson and Wehner argument that Republicans will continue lose elections in which they are favored, unless they adjust to a new reality? It comes from a flawed premise of what happened in 2012, and doesn't have much bearing on how the economy affected the race. It's a completely different question as to whether or not Republicans will lose elections that the economy hands them. I'll have more to say about that coming days.

    What I'll say for now is President Obama won the 2012 election because of the state of the economy, not in spite of it.

    "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

    by Greg Dworkin on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 09:05:25 AM PST

  •  THIS gives me hope: (3+ / 0-)
    What is left of the national party is a smoking hole in the ground with millions, possibly billions, of dollars wasted
    This party has been on this trajectory since Reagan's last term. It is gratifying to hear that they are finally seeing it and admitting it. Amazing, in fact! The coalition, Big Tent, that Reagan (and Atwater) built is inherently unstable as it was built on fraud. They brought in the Jeebus crowd with promises of Christian Sharia law and didn't deliver. They brought in the Nativists with promises of open hunting season on brown people then, Horrors! gave undocumented workers AMNESTY! They brought in the Selfish Bas+ards with promises of lower taxes/smaller government and instead expanded government, massively, every time they held office.
    Eventually, those "failures" had to be noticed.
    Well, now they have been. And now the cutting starts.
    I hope that hole gets so deep and wide that it sucks the entire GOP into it and collapses on itself. The only marker on that grave being a warning sign that here lies toxicity, don't dig.
    Not bitter, no.

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 09:16:18 AM PST

  •  That "Commentary" piece is interesting... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Greg Dworkin
    Intellectual honesty is the first requirement of self-renewal
    This is a funny quote for an article that is on the whole, chock full of intellectual dishonesty from the very start.  Calling President Obama "one of the most ruthlessly efficient" politicians in modern history is rather the back-handed compliment.  Nice projection there...
    Republicans need to express and demonstrate a commitment to the common good, a powerful and deeply conservative concept
    Maybe this was true once, but I have not seen it in my lifetime (my first political memories are from the lead up to Nixon's resignation).  Most conservatives I know denouce the concept of "the general welfare".  So, these guys think there's a switch that can be flipped?  Good luck finding it.

    On the issue of marriage, there's at least a shred of honesty:

    the fact remains that our marriage culture began to disintegrate long before a single court or a single state approved gay marriage. It is heterosexuals, not homosexuals, who have made a hash out of marriage
    One final act of dishonesty from these idiots:
    has exacerbated a massive fiscal imbalance
    Funny to say as Federal spending has remained flat since 2009, government employment at all levels has dropped, and the Federal budget deficit has been almost halved since Obama has been president.

    I still see no sign that the Repoublicans have any idea how to rescue their reputation.  And IMO that's good for this country, even if it means the next 2 years will be difficult to handle from the point of view of GOP obstructionism.  But this current round of obstructionism might end up being more damaging to the GOP than their insistance that President Obama is just an "empty suit".

    Oh yeah, an empty suit that is simultaneously "one of the most ruthlessly efficient" politicians in modern history, and "not really a good politician".

    And I won't even get into the BS about "science" in that article...

  •  Jonathan Chait (0+ / 0-)
    Now, maybe Obama's deal isn't exactly what Ponnuru, Gerson, and Wehner would like. But if Republicans want to reform their party's identity and make it into something other than absolutist advocacy of low taxes for the rich, they need to come up with some negotiating position on fiscal issues other than "no tax hikes for the rich of any kind no matter what we get in return."

    "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

    by Greg Dworkin on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 01:36:14 PM PST

  •  They have a fundamental(ist) problem (0+ / 0-)

    Or maybe more of a Southern problem. The South was the Democrats base, and boat anchor, for a hundred years. Until FDR was able to combine northern working class voters with the Solid South, we had two generations - plus - or Republican rule. Even the Progressives were Republicans.

    Then the South switched sides. The GOP managed to pick off some of the northern white working class. Plus our own demographic problem: the serious decline in union membership.

    They won elections for a generation that way, but it has cost them moderates, women, blacks, youth, and latinos. Now that those groups are in the demographic ascendancy the long term trend is Democratic.

    Nothing that appeals to those voters will pass muster with the fundies, especially the southern ones. They will never compromise on any issue that will allow the GOP to move back to the center. They will not vote for any candidate that is less than severely conservative, no matter the general election consequences. Ask Romney.

    They weren't upset about the rape comments. They thought those clowns were absolutely right. Same with the war on women. The war on immigrants.  

    White christian conservatives are the GOP base, and their boat anchor. They will keep the GOP on a very short ideological leash. After all, the fundies are on a mission from God. No rational argument will ever sway them.

    The fundies. The GOP can't win with them, can't win without them.

    Peace on Earth was all it said.

    by BobBlueMass on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 06:53:49 PM PST

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