The Republican Party has lost much credibility among its base and has not yet established a comprehensive general election strategy or platform. This portends disaster as the general election is only five-and-half months away. The lack of direction and unity in the party was confirmed in two on-the-record meetings held May 19 at The Washington Times with former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore and Republican Chief Deputy Whip Rep. Eric Cantor, also of Virginia.
Mr. Gilmore hopes to be the Republican candidate in a Senate contest against former Democratic Gov. Mark Warner. During the interview at The Times, Mr. Gilmore declared that his party needs to establish a "clear message" and achieve "unity." Yet, when pressed by reporters and editors on specific general election tactics and initiatives, he was unable to clarify how Republicans could achieve both clarity and unity. He called for energy independence and a focus on pocketbook issues. Apart from this, Mr. Gilmore sought mostly to expound his credentials and track record as upholding Republican core values such as limited government and social conservatism. In so doing, he distanced himself on key issues from both President Bush and presumptive nominee John McCain. Thus, Mr. Gilmore appears to be adopting the advice outlined in a May 14 memo by Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia to the Republican leadership: In the absence of a rebranding of the party, "the best we can do over the next six months is to allow our members to brand themselves."
Mr. Cantor, a four-term congressman, also acknowledged the deep fissures within the party. He conveyed he understood the perception among the electorate that the Bush administration "did not fix any problems." He called upon the party to reconnect with the base and turn away from a "Pelosi-lite agenda." Our reporters and editors asked repeatedly how the party can restore its credibility on fiscal conservatism. Mr. Cantor pointed out that not enough voters appear to be aware that Republicans have been in the minority in Congress since the 2006 elections. Therefore, he maintains that the Democratic majority's record can be used against them in the general election. Yet he had difficulty explaining how a majority of his own party recently voted for a pork-laden farm bill that President Bush intends to veto. Mr. Cantor attempted to deflect the avalanche of criticism descending upon the party by foreshadowing a leadership conference scheduled the following day — which he hoped would provide direction.
The results of the latest meeting of the House Republican Conference were detailed in a statement released yesterday. House Republicans unveiled an energy plan that is designed to increase production of domestic energy, promote new sources of energy, cut red tape and provide conservation tax incentives. One of the primary goals of the energy policy is to lower gas prices — which is a pressing economic concern for American voters.
The measures outlined by Republicans do not go far enough to address the crisis at hand within the party — and the challenge presented by the innovative candidacy of the likely Democratic nominee, Barack Obama. The Republican Party will not be able to easily assault Democrats as being fiscally irresponsible — nor will they succeed in merely tagging Mr. Obama as another tax-and-spend liberal. Republicans have repeatedly betrayed their own principles on fiscal matters and will be pegged by Democrats as being hypocrites.
Moreover, the Republican Party has not yet established a strategy for uniting its various branches. Where is a coherent plan to attract swing voters such as Jews, Hispanics, blacks, women, Reagan Democrats and independents — without further alienating core voters? Republicans are seemingly united behind the McCain campaign; but are they really?
Furthermore, the party is not yet ready to combat an Obama campaign that promises bipartisanship and is galvanizing the anti-Washington vote. Republicans are still preparing to fight an old battle — that of 2000 or 2004 — rather than the one emerging in 2008.
In short, the Republican Party faces an identity crisis of its own making and a profound voter backlash that began in 2006. But even at this late stage, there is time to avert disaster. We urge party leaders to chart a winning course for 2008.