The GOP Must Avoid Becoming Democrat Party Lite
By: Warner Todd Huston
After the disastrous loss of majority status that befell the Republicans in Congress with the results of the 2006 midterm elections, conservative members of the GOP — and even a few not so conservative — began floating a new sound bite mantra. We have “lost our brand” became the meme as House members fanned out to the media in an attempt to reassure the rank and file that they had realized their mistakes, were chastened, and were about to “take it back.”
The biggest focus of that “lost brand” was that of fiscal responsibility. Wild Congressional earmarks, “bridges to no where,” and waste became a hallmark of the Republican Congress and many Republicans believed that this was one of the main reasons that Republicans lost the support of the electorate. In a reversal of the conventional wisdom some polls even showed that Americans had come to trust the Democrats in spending more than they did Republicans.
Florida Republican Adam H. Putnam told the Pittsburg Tribune-Review back on March 31st of 2007 that it was time to get serious.
“I think a key reason was the issues of corruption, where we had a bumper crop of scandals and incompetence. … Americans lost the sense that Republicans brought a commonsense, business-like manner to governing (and that) undermined our brand.
It was further undermined by a sense that we had lost our way on fiscal responsibility. So when people went into those voting booths, they really felt disenchanted with a party that they perceived to have lost its way. We were seen as being petty. We were seen as being only in it for ourselves. We had stopped talking about big, bold ideas. We had stopped talking about relevant solutions — and we paid for it. ”
In November of 2007, former RNC chairman Mel Martinez told Ronald Kessler, “When I look at polls and they show that the American people trust the Democrats more than the Republicans on spending, it shows us how weâ€™ve lost our brand. Weâ€™ve got to get our brand back.”
This idea of taking the brand back even made itself into a new organization of conservative Congressmen called Reagan21. With this new caucus of sorts, the *members of Reagan21 wish to assure us all that they are still committed to Reagan’s vision of government.
Republicans have a proud tradition of upholding Ronald Reaganâ€™s principles of liberty and a vision for the 21st Century. That vision is an America that espouses individual freedom, free enterprise, and common-sense values. Americans are crying out for leadership with courage, principle, and integrity. Reagan 21, a new conservative group uniting Republican leaders from both chambers of Congress, was formed to fill this leadership void. Reagan21 presents a positive alternative to the current majority in Congress.
Since the beginning of last year, Representative Jeff Flake, and John Boehner as well as Senator Jim DeMint have done some great work in attacking earmarks — wasteful, pork spending projects surreptitiously hidden in Congressional bills. Rep. Flake has a running list of earmarks on his personal government website, and earlier this month Boehner announced with great fanfare that a new House website had been launched that would focus on earmark reform.
Well, it all sounds so wonderful, doesn’t it? The GOP finally “getting it” and returning to their proper role as the party of fiscal responsibility is an idea that few conservatives can ignore.
Then came the first major chance that the House Republicans had to prove their commitment to fiscal responsibility — and the GOP was found wanting. A seat came open on the Appropriations Committee and the perfect candidate for that post was Rep. Jeff Flake. Flake has been a leader on the anti-earmark campaign and his appointment to the Appropriations Committee would have proven that the House GOP leadership was serious about fiscal responsibility. However, Representative Jo Bonner of Alabama got the nod instead of Flake.
This misstep tells anyone interested in fiscal responsibility that the GOP leadership is not as serious about promoting fiscal responsibility and the anti-earmark crusade as they claim.
Worse, just today John Boehner announced his displeasure that the Democrat Majority of the House of Representatives shut down the earmark reform website hosted on the government’s servers. It seems that the Democrat Party suddenly realized that they had the power to shut down the House Republican’s little website project and they used that power to do so. Boehner limply sent his protests to the House majority leadership demanding his website be returned to public view.
Why did the GOP minority leadership allow themselves to be so easily outflanked like this? Are they truly committed to earmark reform? Did they launch this website knowing full well that the Democrat majority would shut them down, or that they had the power to do so? Did they make all these waves and grand gestures knowing the Democrats would do this and that, by having shown they “tried,” the Republicans could then happily shelve the earmark fight and forget the whole thing?
Or were the House Republicans merely out foxed by a Democrat majority willing to do anything no matter how underhanded?
What ever the case may be, we will have to wait to see what the GOP does here. But one thing is sure, Republicans should have created their own website and hosted it on private servers so that they didn’t have to rely on the approval of their enemies across the aisle to complete the project. It was amateurish for the GOP earmark fighters to place their fate in the hands of the Democrats like that when they could easily have gone outside to host their website.
All this talk of “taking the brand back” was the correct focus, to be sure. So far there has been some small successes and victories on the earmark reform front but much, much more needs to be done. Let’s hope that the GOP isn’t just going to end up being Democrat lite but will beat this earmark reform drum until it really makes a din all across the country.
Republican voters, however, are rightfully wary of the promises of the GOP at this point and time. The â€œbrandâ€ is still not firmly back in the hands of the GOP.