Is the GOP Lost?

The Republican Party is in the political wilderness. Out of power after eight years of George Bush, its minorities in Congress and state governors are hammered daily by the media, heirs to every mistake — real or imagined – that Bush made.

The bubble of Japan’s economic “miracle” came to a crashing halt in the early 1990s. Floundering politicians left the Japanese economy flat on its back for what became known as Japan’s “lost decade.”

The GOP needs to face the fact that it may be in the wilderness for a very long time. Unless it can shake the Bush Brand and regain the trust and confidence of voters, it may be in the first year of its own lost decade.

But is the party really lost?

No, at least not yet.

The man who charted the path that was known as the “Wilderness Road,” Daniel Boone, once said “I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.”

The Republican Party has been confused for years, not just a few weeks.

The confusion emanated from George Bush’s brand of Republicanism, the oxymoronic “big-government conservatism.” Principles such as fiscal restraint were sacrificed for political expediency. The war was fought indecisively, committing us to the self-imposed quagmire of nation-building in Iraq. Competence — a Republican byword – was replaced by cronyism.

Bush rebranded the Republican Party so deeply, Americans lost trust and confidence in its leaders. Which is why President Obama, Congressional Democrats and the mainstream media are working so hard to convince voters that the Republicans are still the Bush Party.

Democrats won’t let go of the so-called “torture memos” and the possibility that Bush administration officials might be prosecuted for authorizing the alleged abuse of terrorist detainees. Every time President Obama talks about the economy, it’s in terms of the crisis he inherited. While Obama spends us into an inflationary oblivion he speaks of past wasteful spending. As he nationalizes more and more of our economy, he excuses it by saying that it began with the Bush bank bailout. Which, alas, it did.

To revive the Republican Party it will have to shake off the Bush Brand. And its members need to do more than speak, they need to act.

That is enormously difficult for a party out of power. But it’s not impossible.

The answer is not to emulate British conservatives. Under David Cameron, the Tories have become, in too many ways, more liberal than the liberals. Cameron’s party is succeeding not because they’ve become more “moderate”: they’re succeeding because under Tony Blair and now Gordon Brown, the Labor Party has done to its brand what George W. Bush did to the Republicans’. If Brown were any less popular, his government any less competent or more corrupt, members of his own party would probably lynch him.

Top Republican congressional leaders are swamped by the tsunami of legislation and appointments by which Obama is transforming our nation into a European-style welfare state. They have little time to do more than deal with daily crises. But some are trying, and others are planning to climb onto the national stage with initiatives of their own.

Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va) has created a “National Council for a New America” – formally a congressional caucus — which had its first public meeting recently in Arlington, Virginia recently. Cantor’s team is comprised of congressional leaders and a few outsiders, such as Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, to listen to voters’ concerns. His objective is not to rebrand the Party, but to get the public more engaged in opposing what the Democrats are doing.

Conservatives remain skeptical because the group is burdened by some pols, such as John McCain, who aren’t part of the solution: they’re part of the problem. As laudable as Cantor’s effort may be, his idea doesn’t yet include divorcing Republicans from Bush’s mistakes.

Republicans can’t — in the short time between now and 2010 — shake off the Bush brand entirely, but they can distance themselves from it. To do so, they have to defend what Bush did right and criticize openly what he did wrong.

Choosing nation-building in Iraq was a mistake on an historic scale. Incarcerating terrorist detainees – and using ‘enhanced interrogation techniques” in questioning them – was right. Spending recklessly and commencing nationalization of the financial and automobile industries were wrong. When he nominated Harriet Myers to the Supreme Court, Bush was at his worst. When he nominated Samuel Alito and John Roberts, he was at his best.

The opportunities are coming in rapid-fire succession. President Obama will nominate a hyper-liberal to the Supreme Court. Conservative Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala) is now the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He will have to take the fight against the Obama nominee to the nation if there is going to be any chance of preventing confirmation. There will be time — probably months — between the nomination and the final confirmation vote. Sessions can, and should, take the issue on the road all summer, convening town hall events to make Americans aware of the nominee’s background and the dangers he (or, more likely she) poses.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga) plans to take the conservative message around the country in meetings just like the ones Sessions should do. The two could easily combine their efforts, enhancing the likelihood both would succeed.

The Democrats’ plan to tax energy — the global warming tax they call “cap and trade” — has stalled in the House Energy and Commerce Committee because the Dems are in disarray over the costs and job losses it will cause their states. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wi) is the ranking member of the House Budget Committee and also serves on the Ways and Means Committee which has jurisdiction over all tax legislation.

Ryan is as well spoken and well-informed as anyone on “cap and tax.” He can explain clearly the fact that the Democrats’ plan will be a huge burden on each household and business. If he joined forces with Sessions and Price, the trio — separately and together — could cover the country on every issue Americans consider most important.

It would be an Outside-the-Beltway strategy. Which is precisely what the Republicans need to recover the trust and confidence of the voters.