A Radical Makeover
Since the November 4th election, there has been much ballyhoo about the redefinition and much needed re-packaging of the Republican Party, especially as to whom should be the authors and leaders of this remake and even how to get started.
Republicans need self examination. The party of Lincoln has become two-parties. One side is a party of conservatives, who invoke everything, correctly or incorrectly in the name of Ronald Reagan. The other side is a party which has morphed into some brand of Democrat-lite. Both are wrong, the election was the proof on many levels.
Ten short months ago America was full of “doubtful” voters. There was no clear front-runner in either the Republican or Democrat primaries. People in the neighborhoods and local precincts soon sorted it out, however, one vote at a time.
Abraham Lincoln knew that elections were won one vote at a time. On February 21, 1840, he talked about campaign organization for the Whig Party. He was quoted: “Keep a constant watch on the doubtful voters and … have them talked to by those in whom they have the most confidence.”
Push forward to today where precinct leaders and local committee people from both parties worked to influence friends and neighbors. Everyone was clear on only one issue: change was coming. George W. Bush was leaving. Apparently the Democratic Party had a clearer definition of this change and a superior way of selling it.
Now, in the aftermath, it is time for the Republican Party to get with the program and change. Not necessarily a change in principles, but a dramatic change in packaging. This election Republicans were selling 1980 with every candidate invoking the Reagan factor, while the Democrats were 28 years ahead and on the cutting edge of candidate packaging.
Republicans had the oldest candidate ever to run – the first time – for president trying to invoke the 28-year-old ideals of the oldest president ever elected (his second term). Even when they added a hip young conservative woman to the ticket, she was throttled within weeks, like a father grounding his daughter for getting bad grades on an exam.
If you were born in 1963 (Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was born in 1964), you were too young to vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980. You were 17 and today you are a middle-aged 45. Former California Governor Reagan was just an old guy back then to a 17 year old.
Today, most people do not want to return to their junior year of high school – but they love listening to the oldies station as they commute to work in 2008. Perhaps Sarah Palin, and the short-lived excitement around her, was a sign that Republicans need outreach to a new generation. The people who remember the principles and can hum the tunes are now listening to XM radio or an I-pod, not LP’s or 8-tracks.
The rebuilding and repackaging must start locally in the trenches if the Republican Party is to grow anew. The first mission is to unify at all costs. Mr. Lincoln himself stated at the 1858 Illinois Republican State Convention “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Republicans were a minority party and the shrewd Republican state senatorial candidate knew it. He understood the desperate need for party unity as did the 2008 senator from Illinois.
The second mission for Republicans is to find common ground, which will be the bedrock of the party. If county committees and Republican clubs look inward, they will find that there are many core points everyone agrees upon. They should write them down and share them with others in the neighborhood.
Perhaps they are simple issues such as working toward smaller government and fewer and lower taxes. Perhaps it is fighting for the constitutional freedoms we all enjoy. Whatever it may be, ground zero must be found first on the local level, before it is conjoined onto higher levels with a broader base of people, for that will then take internal party compromise.
Ronald Reagan understood the art of compromise. In his book “An American Life,” he stated that once as a governor he was entering the give-and-take of legislative bargaining when a group of his conservative supporters began chastising him. Governor Reagan said: "If you got seventy-five or eighty percent of what you were asking for, I say, you take it and fight for the rest later, and that's what I told these radical conservatives who never got used to it.”
The Gipper understood sports stats too. He knew even if you struck out a lot, but batted .400, you were awesome and a superstar – which he became. He could work with people, give and take and still not compromise his core values. Values that Mr. Reagan projected, shared and was able to explain to others, like a teacher giving the gift of knowledge.
Republicans need to take a deep breath and repackage their values for a new generation if they expect to perpetuate into the future, both Presidents Lincoln and Reagan knew you start first with the basics.