If we want to fix what ails the Republican Party, it’s worth taking a few moments to diagnose what went wrong, while acknowledging what the Democrats did right. Once we’ve diagnosed the disease and figured out how another patient overcame similar problems, we can start to get the GOP’s health back on track.
First off, the Republican Party succeeded from 2000-2004, not — as some people think — because they softened their ideological edges, but because the GOP had an edge over the Democrats on foreign policy issues, which were the dominant issues of those election cycles. However, by the 2006 election, the war in Iraq had turned into a net negative for the GOP and domestic issues — where the party’s agenda has become stale and out of step with the base — had become much more important. Moreover, George W. Bush, who had been very popular from 2000-2004, saw his popularity plunge in his second term. With the figurehead for the Republican Party a wildly unpopular man with terrible political instincts, an unpopular domestic agenda, and no communication skills, it was a recipe for disaster and the party didn’t help matters by methodically steering right into every political trap.
Additionally, Bush and his Republican allies in Congress systematically alienated their conservative supporters by almost totally ignoring their concerns on issues like spending and immigration, even to the point of gratuitously insulting conservatives who disagreed with them. The Party then topped this all off by choosing the single least popular man in the entire Republican Party with conservative activists, John McCain, as the party’s presidential nominee. This resulted in the GOP’s base becoming incredibly dispirited, which deprived the party of money, volunteers, and much needed defenders — particularly in 2008, a year when the mainstream media went ga-ga for Obama.
Meanwhile, the Democrats did an outstanding job of taking advantage of the GOP’s woes. From 2004-2008, they eschewed bi-partisanship and the center, relentlessly pandered to their base, and ferociously attacked Bush and the GOP at every opportunity. Over time, the Democratic base and infrastructure, which benefited tremendously from the financial help it had received from rich Democratic donors, became maniacally energized and channeled truly gargantuan amounts of money, volunteers, and raw enthusiasm to the Democratic cause.
Now, Obama is the president. Meanwhile, the GOP doesn’t have the capability to block anything in the House, and it barely has the capability to muster a filibuster in the Senate. So how does the GOP turn this situation around?