Stand For Something, Or Fall Like Nothing

Karl Rove has some sage advice for a GOP in free-fall after some serious losses in Congressional special elections. The loss of the House seat in MS-01 was a sign that the Republican Party has some serious problems ahead of it in 2008. As Mr. Rove notes:

This blow to the GOP came after two other special congressional election losses in recent months. Republicans lost former House Speaker Denny Hastert’s Illinois seat and Rep. Richard Baker’s Louisiana seat.

Both of those losses can be attributed to bad candidates. But that only shows the GOP can’t take “safe” seats for granted when Democrats run conservatives who distance themselves from their national party leaders. The string of defeats should cure Republicans of the habit of simply shouting “liberal! liberal! liberal!” in hopes of winning an election. They need to press a reform agenda full of sharp contrasts with the Democrats.

He is absolutely right. The GOP simply must have an actual agenda for 2008. Just calling their opponents liberals isn’t enough to cut it. The Democrats have run too many candidates with centrist street cred, and at this point too many people have decided that taking a chance on a liberal is better than risking more Republican incompetence.

If this sounds harsh, too bad. The GOP needs an intervention this year, and the grassroots have to give it.

Every Republican officeholder needs to realize that the Republican “brand” has been utterly trashed. Too many scandals, too many times when GOP lawmakers have failed to stand against corruption, too many times when the GOP has failed to connect with what really concerns the American people—all of these things have taken their toll on the future of the party.

Of course, all is not lost. The GOP’s loss is not an inevitability, so long as the party is willing to reform itself. GOP candidates need to be honest with their constituents: the GOP has not been a party of good governance. We failed to stop the growth of government. We failed to keep the American people in the loop on Iraq and our strategy from 2003–2007 was a failure. We failed to uphold home-town values, but ended up following Beltway values.

The road ahead requires reform. To fix healthcare in this country we need real reform, not another failed top-down approach. Republicans can win on healthcare if they start talking not about why a market-based approach is better in theory, but why the average voter will be better off. Republicans can win on the economy with a very simple message: if you have to tighten your belts in times of trouble, then the government should do the same. The GOP must stand resolute on fighting earmarks and government waste.

The GOP can win on the issues, but first they must set the agenda. That means running on principles, not on bashing the other side. The GOP shouldn’t need to spend their resources convincing the American people that the Democrats are radicals who are out-of-touch with American values: if the GOP makes sure that the electorate knows what we stand for, the contrasts will be obvious.

More of the same will not work. The GOP has to set an agenda and defend its principles. 2006 should have been a wake-up call, and if the GOP doesn’t learn from its lessons then they run the risk of a repeat.