Abandonment of conservative principles root cause of Republican losses … Now what?
The Republican Party nationally, and in Pennsylvania, lies in tatters today. Having lost the White House to Barack Obama, suffered historic losses in Congressional elections, been almost shut-out in statewide races, and experienced further erosion in the state House, there is no doubt the GOP has hit rock bottom.
It is, most significantly, a loss for so-called moderate Republicanism. Party moderates have opined time and again that a more middle-of-the-road presidential candidate could win Pennsylvania. McCain was touted as that candidate. He lost by 11 percent – far worse than the George W. Bush losses in either 2000 (5 percent) or 2004 (3 percent).
This election provides conclusive proof of what happens to a party when it abandons its core values. John McCain was never the candidate of conservative Republicans. His apostasies ranged from trampling free speech rights with McCain-Feingold campaign restrictions, to opposing the Bush tax cuts, to supporting illegal immigration.
The turning point in this campaign was the vote on the $700 billion economic bail-out package, which was supported by both Obama and McCain. Loaded with pork, McCain violated his campaign pledge to “name the names” of the hogs at the trough and instead loaded their plates. From that point on it was clear neither Obama nor McCain was going to bring about change of any kind.
Add in the last minute conviction of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens on corruption charges and American voters were reminded again why they rejected so many Republicans in 2006.
As John McCain himself said: “We came to change Washington, instead Washington changed us.”
That is so true. The GOP at all levels has abandoned its core principles. From the string of corrupt Republicans headed off to jail, to big government spending like the Medicaid bill and the bailout, to state-level support for Governor Ed Rendell and his big spending ways, Republicans have sold out, melding with Democrats into one big incumbent party.
To make matters worse, the once-vaunted Republican organizational structure fell apart. John McCain wrapped up the GOP nomination by the end of February, yet the Obama campaign ran rings around McCain in building a grassroots organization that produced big time on Election Day. The McCain campaign totally frittered away any advantage it gained by locking up the nomination early.
Here in Pennsylvania the Republican Party is showing signs of serious trouble as well. Of the 12 statewide offices elected in the past three years, the GOP has won just three: two seats on the Commonwealth court and attorney general. In that same time period, Republicans have lost in the presidential race, a U.S. Senate seat, the governorship, Lt. Governorship, two statewide row offices, two seats on the state Supreme Court, and one Commonwealth court seat.
State Republicans suffered a net loss of one Congressional seat on Tuesday; added to the three lost in 1986 that is a four seats turn-over in a two-year span. And, in the state House, the GOP has gone from a 13-seat majority to a 7-seat minority. Further evidence of the party’s foundations rotting out from under it came from voter registration statistics. There are now 1.2 million more Democrats than Republicans in Pennsylvania. That is an all-time high.
The fact of the matter is the GOP has become an unprincipled, undisciplined, ineffective shell of its former self. It has a party structure controlled by lobbyists and special interests, unable to excite even its own base. Worse, the structure is mired in the politics of the last century, unable or unwilling to take advantage of the modern techniques of organizing and communication.
The good news is this vindicates conservatism. When the Republican Party both talked and walked the conservative line—think Ronald Reagan—it enjoyed an unparalleled period of success and prosperity both nationally and within Pennsylvania. But, as moderation took hold, the GOP moved away from those principles with the resulting electoral carnage.
The time has now come to rebuild. This will require two things: new faces in party leadership, and a return to the core principles that have historically made the Republican Party great.
Until and unless those two things happen, the GOP is in for a long period of wandering in the electoral wilderness.