The GOP: Still Wandering Through the Wilderness

I was recently having a conversation with a conservative friend of mine when he gleefully pulled out his Blackberry and read to me that day’s Rasmussen Presidential Approval Index, which had just hit a new low. This had become something of a routine for us: he reads to me dwindling poll numbers as evidence of the impending doom that awaits Democrats in 2010, while I brush them off as incredible and premature. However, I must admit there is reason to worry. According to Gallup, Obama’s approval ratings have dropped 15-20 points since his inauguration in January. While a decline in approval ratings during the first year is normal for a president, this rate of change is unusually high. Furthermore, there seems to be a general anti-incumbent attitude this year. With anger mounting over the stagnant economy, it is likely that many will want to vote out the party in power, the Democrats. The health care debate is not helping matters either. The Democrats’ largest promise has proven to be their biggest public relations problem, infuriating the right while frustrating the left and confusing the middle.
But all is not lost for my fellow Democrats. Our shred of hope comes from the simple observation that however self-destructive we may have become since gaining power, the Republicans have us beat. After November 2008 delivered the biggest setback for the GOP in decades, questions began to arise about which direction the Republican Party would move. Looking back, the problem with these questions might have been the premise that the party would choose any direction at all. Rather, the Republicans seemed to have adopted a strategy of incoherent infighting and freelance radicalism. A party that just a few years ago was known for its fall-in-line discipline has now degenerated into a leaderless, divided, inefficient specter of its former self.
The most glaring problem currently facing the GOP is its dire lack of leadership. After 2008, the GOP’s options seemed to be characterized most commonly by the faces of Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney. Palin, representing former Bush-voters who were terrified of Obama stealing their guns and bibles, was said to be too conservative to appeal to Independent voters. On the other hand, Romney, representing the traditional business interests of the Republican Party, was said to be too socially liberal to energize the religious right. As other candidates for the new leadership of the GOP emerged, all seemed to fall into one of these two camps. Michael Steele, the actual leader of the RNC, has become largely irrelevant. Instead of trying to find some middle ground, the Republicans have chosen a strategy of no real leadership at all (going rogue, if you will). This has allowed for the emergence of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck as the overriding voices of the Republican Party. Frankly, Democrats could not have gotten luckier. Between Beck’s conspiracy theories, Limbaugh’s race baiting, and the millions of angry teabaggers who listen to these men religiously, Independents will think twice before voting Republican.
This division has been particularly evident in recent weeks. First, in a special election in New York, prominent social conservatives, including Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, endorsed an Independent conservative candidate over the moderate candidate chosen by the Republicans, driving the Republican out of the race and ultimately leading to a Democratic victory. Other prominent moderate Republicans, including Charlie Crist, have also been targeted by conservative groups, who want them to move to the right. Another example of the division occurred when social conservatives voted for an amendment to the House healthcare bill to strip funding for abortion from the bill. Once the bill passed, fiscal conservatives, who had warned the social conservatives not to vote for the amendment, blamed social conservatives for adding the amendment and making it easier for moderate Democrats to vote for the overall healthcare bill. These occurrences demonstrate how the GOP is largely ineffective without strong leadership.
Realistically, the Democrats will probably lose several seats in 2010. However, there is no need for panic. Until the Republican Party can conjure up some strong leadership that is not on the payroll of Fox News, and circulate a coherent unified message that does not involve death panels or secret Kenyan citizenship, the Democrats do not have much to worry about.

Vann Bentley
Class of 2012
College of Arts & Science

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