August 8, 2008

Commentary:

Congressional Republicans Need New Leadership and Conservative Principles

By David E. Johnson

It was said of the restored Bourbon monarchs of France after the French Revolution, “they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.” The same can be said of today’s Republican Congressional leadership. Many Republicans hoped that after losing its majority in the 2006 debacle, the Congressional leadership would put together an agenda of reform that would emphasize core conservative principles to recapture its majority. Yet those hopes have been dashed as lately it has been more of the same and voters have continued to punish Republicans with devastating defeats. It would appear that things will have to get worse before they get better.

In 2006, voters rejected the Republican brand not conservative ideals. America remains a right of center nation. Indeed the greatest Democratic successes in 2006 were when they ran conservative Democrats who at times seemed more conservative than their Republican opponents. The same pattern has been seen this year. Yet the talk among the Congressional Republicans has been on how to appear more moderate. It is as if the Congressional leadership wants to adopt the ‘me too Republican’ approach that failed so dismally until the election of Ronald Reagan. Running away from the conservative philosophy will only ensure a permanent Republican minority such as happened in the forty years before the Contract With America.

What must be done to avoid a total disaster in November is to begin emphasizing conservative issues and positions to the voters. This message was clearly sent in Utah where incumbent Chris Cannon was defeated in the Republican primary by a challenger who stressed conservative issues. Yet the Party leadership was blind to this until voters made their choice. Another example of the disconnect between Republican voters and the Congressional leadership is in Louisiana’s Fourth Congressional District where a strong young conservative has emerged and is leading in the polling and has raised the most funds because of the positive conservative message he is laying out. Yet the Congressional leadership has endorsed a me-too Republican trial lawyer. The message is clear to anyone who listens conservative principles will win elections if they are emphasized.

What are the conservative principles that need to be emphasized? They are quite simple and resonate with all voters – strong economic policies that stress less government, less taxes, and the entrepreneurial spirit of the individual; a strong national defense; enforcement of immigration laws; and a willingness to fight environmentalists to allow drilling on American soil.

Nobody debates that the economy is in dire straits currently or that the Democratic Congressional Majority will try to paint the economic downturn as a Republican caused problem. Republicans must not allow this to happen. They must present an economic plan that will lead to an economic renaissance as Ronald Reagan did when he adopted Jack Kemp’s supply side economic policy. The result was one of the strongest periods of economic prosperity in America’s history. Today’s Republicans must present a similar policy designed for the challenges we face in today’s global economy. Such a plan would again present Republicans as the Party of ideas and capture the attention of voters across the nation.

A majority of Americans believe in a strong defense not only to win the war on terror but against emerging dangers ranging from a resurgent Russia to Iran to Venezuela. How many candidates have lost elections due being weak on national defense? One only has to look back at George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis to see that voters will reject candidates who advocate a policy of weakness and appeasement. Despite some good Hollywood imagery from their supporters, the Democratic Party is still the Party of defeatism and weakness. Republicans must paint the difference between Democrats and Republicans on national defense in bright colors so that voters realize the clear difference. We must not allow Democrats to trot out a Jim Webb or Wesley Clark and claim they are the Party of a strong defense. Rather we must expose the Democratic Party on defense for what it is, a Party that believes peace through strength can never be achieved and that we must negotiate with our enemies without any preconditions.

In polling, illegal immigration is a major concern regardless of party affiliation. Whether you are a blue collar Democrat or a red state Republican, voters want tough laws against illegal immigration and no amnesty. Republicans must unite an anti-illegal immigration position. Yet, at the same time, Republicans must state that we support and encourage legal immigration. Immigrants from every part of the world have made America the strong and prosperous nation it is today.

Strong and optimistic leadership that remains loyal to conservative principles for the challenges we face in the twenty first century will again capture America’s heart and mind and result in a Republican majority. Yet if such leadership does not quickly assert itself, Republicans and Americans may be in for a long and hard time until such leadership emerges.

David E. Johnson is a Republican strategist and pollster and the CEO of Strategic Vision. He may be reached at djohnson@strategicvision.biz. Holly Robichaud is a veteran republican fundraiser and President of Tuesday Associates. She may be reached at holly@tuesdayassociates.com

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