Is it time to hold a funeral for the Republican brand? We think not. Republicans are deeply disappointed at the Bush presidency. That is why Democrats believe that they can win if they make the 2008 election about Bush. It will turn off both independent and Republican voters while motivating Democrats to go to the polls. But that could be a huge mistake costing Hillary Clinton the presidency, because neither Republican nor Democrat voters really want a saga of Bush then Clinton then Bush then Clinton. That is one of the reasons why there is such nostalgia for the Reagan years: it was a time before the Bushes and Clintons.
So how do Republicans go about winning in 2008 and prove that the Republican brand is not dead? First and foremost by acting like Republicans again. The Republican Party has always been the Party of good government, opposed to the political machines and the dirty dealings that characterized Democrats like Dan Rostenkowski and Jim Wright in Congress. Over the past four years, Republicans lost that image due to the scandals of Duke Cunningham and others. We must reclaim that mantle by dealing severely with any instance of impropriety. Members who are guilty of impropriety must be shown the door. The Republican Party must show once again that it has zero tolerance for scandals. Demanding Larry Craig resign has been a good step in that direction.
Republicans must once again get back to the core principles that make the Republican Party what it is — less taxes; less government and a strong defense. Voters will reward politicians who not only preach but act upon those principles. The golden rule of campaigning is to keep your base intact. In 2006 we failed. Incumbents bragging about pork barrel spending was a turnoff to Republican stalwarts. Democrats did not so much win, as Republicans lost.
A majority of Americans believe in a strong defense not only to win the war on terror but against emerging dangers ranging from a resurgent Russia to Iran to Venezuela. How many candidates have lost elections due being weak on national defense? One only has to look back at George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis to see that voters will reject candidates who advocate a policy of weakness and appeasement. Despite some good Hollywood imagery from their supporters, the Democratic Party is still the Party of defeatism and weakness. Republicans in 2008 must paint the difference between Democrats and Republicans on national defense in bright colors so that voters realize the clear difference.
In polling, illegal immigration is a major concern regardless of party affiliation. Whether you are a blue collar Democrat or a red state Republican, voters want tough laws against illegal immigration and no amnesty. Republicans must unite an anti-illegal immigration position. Yet, at the same time, Republicans must state that we support and encourage legal immigration. Immigrants from every part of the world have made America the strong and prosperous nation it is today.
The war in Iraq does not need to be the albatross for Republicans that it is generally seen to be. Republicans must explain that we are in Iraq and we are committed to victory. Let’s fight them there instead of here. The war has now shifted from one against Saddam to a theater in the overall war on terror, just as Germany was but one theater in World War II. Democrats will howl at that comparison and state we should be concentrating in Afghanistan and withdrawing from Iraq. Republicans must be steadfast and strong like Churchill and Roosevelt were in World II (when many Republicans including MacArthur were mistaken in opposing the Germany first strategy) and explain why if we defeat the terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan we will not only be defeating Al-Qaeda but Iran and Syria.
Republicans should argue forcibly for another comparison with the 1930’s: by stopping the enemy in Iraq we are stopping them before the price for freedom gets higher (just as England and France could have stopped Hitler before he invaded Poland, and the worst of World War II could probably have been prevented). People understand that we must keep the fighting in the Middle East and not here in the United States.
Another key component for a Republican victory in 2008 is to avoid personal attacks and fight on principle. Republicans must engage Democrats on core principles, voters will respond as polls show that America is still a conservative nation. Personal attacks will fail. One of the reasons for the low poll numbers for both Congress and the president is a disgust at the personal politics that dominate our life.
Finally, Republicans must once again project optimism. Rather then being on the defensive, Republicans must go on the offense and offer a clear choice and not an echo. That will do the trick.