The problem the Republican Party faces is twofold. First is the division between the GOP’s leadership and its membership. Scott Rasmussen has defined a divide in polling between the mainstream (or “populist”) mood and the political class. This is the basic divide within the GOP.
Republican Party activists, however, are there because of issues such as limited government, abortion, gun rights, tax reform, school choice, property rights, etc. The GOP’s leadership showed little appetite for rocking the established order and bringing about fundamental reform during its last 11 years in control of Congress.
Because of the Republican Party’s lack of interest in the ideas that brought passion and energy to the party’s base, many activists began to step away, give less money, not volunteer, and stay home on election day. Conservatives have had cause to be angry after the broken promises that Bush made in 2004.
The general public was also seeing something. In 1994, voters had kicked out-of-touch big-spending Democrats to the curb. However, Republicans became the same scandal-plagued party of government that they’d defeated. Republicans had met the enemy and they were it. The public decided they’d had enough, and Karl Rove’s permanent majority came crashing down.
The instigators of post-election recriminations are a funny lot. They describe themselves as fiscal conservatives and libertarians, but you rarely see them lay out any spending they want to see cut. Nor do you hear them extolling fundamental tax reform. And while they claim to be reformers, their offerings collectively make Bambi look like Rambo.
Where are the great mass movements to make the agendas of David Frum’s The Conservative Comeback or Ross Douthat’s Grand New Party come to fruition? Lackluster ideas do not inspire great political movements. The irony is that the attacks on members of the grassroots coalition let the real perpetrators of Republican ruin off the hook. Is it a coincidence that four Republican senators who supported TARP were narrowly defeated, while another TARP supporter was forced into a runoff? And this Frankenstein monster of a program has become everything that stalwart conservatives warned it would be back in September, even while the establishment urged us to swallow the “crap sandwich.”
Republicans didn’t lose because we had people at the grassroots of the party with strong viewpoints. Republicans lost because we had hypocritical leadership that gave lip service to ideas but was ultimately focused on its own power. The greatest danger to a GOP resurgence is not those folks who are motivated to political actions by their beliefs, but rather the way-too-powerful good old boys who stalk the halls of Congress and statehouses across America. They continue on, as if trying to repeat the strategy of the amiable Republicans who spent an entire generation as an irrelevant congressional minority from 1955-1994.
The bottom line is that the attempt to pit activists against one another in a blame game is little more than a distraction. We can point fingers all we want, but as long as we continue to put up power-hungry posers, the American people will continue to give us exactly what we deserve: defeat.