Republicans took a beating on Election Day.
They lost the White House and more than twenty House seats. They came within a whisker of seeing the Democrats achieve a filibuster-proof majority of sixty seats in the Senate — rescued only yesterday by the victory of Sen. Saxby Chambliss in the Georgia run-off election.
They have some work ahead of them which will set their course for the next couple of years and determine whether they can emerge from the political wilderness.
First, they must choose a party chairman from a flock of candidates. None of the candidates has a sterling record and each presents considerable liabilities. But some are more problematic than others. Katon Dawson has been a successful state party chairman in South Carolina but his twelve-year membership in an all-white country club would be a public relations nightmare for a party already struggling with minorities. Some are already sending up warning flares. A national committeewoman who is supportive of Dawson concedes, “I think there are some members of the committee who would find it intolerable.” And to boot, the club has also excluded Jews, although it did extend an “honorary membership” in the 1980s to the commander at Fort Jackson, Maj. Gen. Robert Solomon. Just what the party needs: a chairman who belonged to a club with a “whites only” deed which snubbed Jews and blacks.
Alternatively, the RNC may look to Michael Steele, a charismatic and effective spokesman but light on a record of organizational success. Then there are John Yob and Saul Anuzis, who hail from Michigan, where the Republican Party has fallen off the map, despite the opportunity to make headway against tax-and-spend liberal Democrats in the midst of a recession. And Chip Saltzman, former chair of the Tennessee state party, may be too inexperienced on the national stage and too closely identified with a potential 2012 contender, Mike Huckabee. The latter liability hobbles Jim Greer, who leads the Florida party and is allied with Charlie Crist, although Greer alone seems to have a track record of outreach and electoral success — skills the party badly needs.
In short, the RNC must choose wisely. The watchword here may be: choose the candidate least likely to embarrass Republicans.
The real action for Republicans will be in Washington, where four immediate challenges confront Republicans. Greatly reduced in numbers, they nevertheless have the opportunity to revive the base and improve their image with voters.
The most immediate issue is the auto bailout. Democrats will be pressing for billions more in taxpayer money for an industry that has failed to make needed reforms — or cars people want to buy — and has to date not demonstrated the capacity to align its cost structure with non-union domestic auto producers. Republicans would do well to hold firm and stand up for taxpayers, whose salaries and benefit packages pale in comparison to those of the auto workers. One economics professor put it in context:
A recent study by Mark J. Perry, professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan-Flint, shows that the hourly compensation cost, including benefits, for the Big Three automakers in Detroit for 2007-2008 is $73.20 per hour, compared with $48 at Toyota.
In goods-producing industries in the United States, reports Perry, the average hourly compensation cost, including benefits, is $31.59. For management and professional employees in the U.S., the average hourly cost, with benefits, is $47.57. For all workers, the average hourly wage/benefit cost is $28.48 per hour.
Asks Perry: “Should U.S. taxpayers really be providing billions of dollars to bailout companies (GM, Ford, and Chrysler) that compensate their workers 52.5 percent more than the market (Toyota wages and benefits), 54 percent more than management and professional workers, 132 percent more than the average manufacturing wage, and 157 percent more than the average compensation of all American workers?”
Republicans can begin to regain their reputation as guardians of the taxpayers and smart stewards of the economy by following Nancy Reagan’s advice: just say no.