Schwarzenegger Republicanism Won't Save the GOP

There's an astounding scope to the Republican Party's disarray following the historic election of Barack Obama to the presidency.

The party's remnant factions will be debating the future direction of the GOP for some time, but one thing is clear: there's a tremendous yearning on the Republican right for a return to bedrock conservative principles. As the American Spectator's Robert Stacy McCain wrote in the aftermath:

Perhaps the most important statistic for conservatives to keep in mind today ... is this: 53 percent of Republican primary voters did not vote for John McCain. ...

Conservatives who sought to prevent McCain's nomination cannot be blamed for his defeat. And it is his defeat, not yours.

Perhaps not, but some leading movement conservatives are cautioning against a hard right correction in any case. Rich Lowry perhaps said it best in a recent Washington Post op-ed:

Even in unimaginably challenging conditions for Republicans, the ideological composition of the election was essentially unchanged from 2004. Only 22 percent of voters identified themselves as liberals. The rest were moderates or conservatives.

It is indeed, as conservatives have been insisting in recent days, a center-right country. The question is how to appeal to the center again.

This is pretty much the shape of the pending battle across the trenches of the American right. The coming Obama administration is still two months from the inauguration, so Republicans are getting an early start on strategies for a path back from the wilderness.

In thinking about the steps back to power, political scientist Marvin King offered a useful three-fold scenario in the Clarion-Ledger.He thinks the Republicans might focus on a "Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee" path back to power; they might seek a path in a "Grover Norquist/Club for Growth" agenda; or they might seek a route that "goes west" -- that is, a move in the direction of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

King argues that a "Schwarzenegger Model" offers attractive possibilities for the GOP. The California governor transcends wrenching partisan battles on social policy and is a moderate on fiscal policy -- a combination that forms a "Western post-partisanship" with a winning record in elections.

Recall that Governor Schwarzenegger joined John McCain on the campaign trail in Ohio during the final week of the election. Schwarzenegger's "Arnold Classic International Fitness" bodybuilding competition is held in Columbus each spring, so perhaps McCain operatives were praying that the former Mr. Olympia could pull some big weight with voters in the Buckeye State. The governor also gave an early endorsement for McCain's nomination campaign back in January, when the two stood together with Rudy Giuliani as the "Three Amigos" of GOP moderation and across-the-aisle bipartisanship.