Republicans are currently suffering a hard hangover from the past two disastrous elections cycles, but there is hope. Just four short years ago the Democrats were shaking their heads wondering what went wrong as George Bush upset John Kerry and gained seats in both Congress and the Senate. A lot can happen in a presidential election cycle. If Republicans want to redeem themselves next time around they need a 12-step plan for recovery, well, let’s start with 10 anyway.
1. Stop complaining about 2008: The constant recriminations about whose fault 2008’s election was is counterproductive and it makes the party seem like cry babies. Maybe Sarah Palin helped, maybe she didn’t; maybe John McCain was too moderate a pick to excite the base, but maybe the base wouldn’t have been enough anyway. What happened, happened. The question is where do they go from here?
2. Start developing a net-roots campaign now: One good step would be to copy what the Democrats did well this year. Days of the get out the vote, grass roots campaign carrying a candidate to victory is over, or at least changing. To be successful in the 21st century you need a powerful net-roots campaign. Obama showed his team was masterful at this. Study. Copy. Improve.
3. Be fiscal conservatives again: This is an easy one: stop supporting bail-outs. The conservatives hate them and much of Middle America is leery of the government owning everything. Hold the line; it will pay off electorally in the end.
4. Create a reform agenda: To borrow a phrase from NASA, support measures to make government “smaller, faster, cheaper.” Small government is in your DNA. Play to your strengths.
5. Energy, Energy, Energy: Steal the Pickens Plan. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. Someone has come up with a plan that seems to make sense to most of America. Co-opt it.
6. Work with Obama when you can: The country wants and needs some bipartisanship right now and there are places where you can work with the Democrats: education, financial transparency, and the aforementioned energy policy would be good places to start.
7. Obstruct Obama when you can: While the country wants bipartisanship, it doesn’t want a party of pushovers either. Stand up for your core values. Stop earmarks, push for quality judicial appointments, filibuster any extreme leftist proposals, i.e. The Fairness Doctrine.
8. Appeal to youth: While the youth vote was not any larger than normal this cycle, about 17%, it is a large and growing demographic group. You can’t afford to write them off as unreachable. The environmental message works with them, so use it. You are the party of Teddy Roosevelt after all- he started the national parks system. Remind voters of that by supporting some pro-business and pro-environment positions. Start by pushing alternative fuels.
9. Appeal to minorities: America is slowing growing into a country of ethnic minorities. Instead of burying your head in the sand and pretending it isn’t happening, work with it. Immigration is good for our country when it is done legally. Work across the aisle to pass meaningful reform here. While you’re at it, try recruiting some quality minority candidates as well. They are out there. Michael Steele would be a good start.
10. Look for the next great hope: Don’t pin all your plans for 2012 on Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee. The GOP has a habit of choosing their also-rans as the standard bearers the next time around. It would be much better served to look beyond the obvious and start grooming a new generation of leaders. Bobby Jindal, Charlie Crist or Utah Governor Jon Huntsman would all be interesting choices.
Bottom line- it is not the end of the conservatism, or even the end of the Republican Party. A hangover hurts, and this is a bad one. But it is the morning after, and its time to make those promises of “never again.”