Republican post-mortem begins after John McCain’s defeat :
Republicans began a post mortem into their historic election defeat yesterday which threatens to mushroom into a full blown ideological civil war.
By Tim Shipman in Washington and Alex Spillius in Phoenix
Last Updated: 10:12AM GMT 06 Nov 2008
John McCain’s noble concession speech is expected to quickly allow him to rebuild his former reputation as an independent bipartisan force in Washington.
For his party it is more difficult.
Republicans are now divided between social conservatives for whom abortion and gay marriage still override all other concerns, and moderates who think the fanaticism of some evangelical voters has driven away independent voters.
Many fear the collapse of the Reagan coalition, which united social, fiscal and foreign policy conservatives.
Conservative leaders will meet on Thursday in Virginia and again next week to begin mapping out a plans for a new grassroots movement to match Mr Obama’s, which they hope will give them a path back to power.
The moderates on Wednesday began to voice the view that Mr Obama’s ability to win states in the previously Republican south and mountain west means that in order to compete, Republicans must also change their battle map and again contest Democratic seats in the north east that they have not won in a generation.
David Frum, the former White House speech writer, who has emerged as a standard bearer for what might be deemed the ‘David Cameron’ wing of the Republicans, said that the party must change and start addressing issues that concern floating voters.
“We’re not in good shape. Two big things won this election for Barack Obama: a big increase in turnout by ethnic minorities and a big shift in preference by college educated white people. That is where the Bush collapse really took place.
“That is where Sarah Palin was such a damaging force in the Republican Party. She symbolised a problem that in the eyes of many college educated white people, who Bush got in 2004 and the Republicans owned in the 1980s, the Republican party has become the party of culture war; it is the party of “Drill, baby, drill”, so no environmental agenda.
“What Republicans need is not a grassroots conservative movement that tries to intensify Republican turnout among traditional conservative groups; they need to win back those lost votes among people with college degrees and find a way to broaden the appeal to the best educated, most affluent African Americans and other ethnic minorities. Let’s learn fast.” The view from Arizona, where Republicans were digesting John McCain’s defeat, proved that Mr Frum will have a hard time winning over those doctrinaire conservatives who believe that it is the Republican brand, rather than its principles, that is damaged and that it is the Bush administration’s abandonment of the small government conservatism of the Reagan era that caused John McCain’s defeat.
Congressman Jeff Flake, who won re-election to Arizona’s sixth district on Tuesday, said Republicans needed to return to first principles of fiscal discipline, low taxes and small government.
“Republicans need to act like Republicans again and get back to the core article of faith of limited government, because we have really run away from that,” he said at Mr McCain’s election night rally in Phoenix.
“I still believe this is a centre-right country. And if we present a strong contrast to the Democrats, particularly on the economy, then we’ll be in good shape.” Dick Armey, a House leader in the 1990s, said that young legislators like Mr Flake, Marsha Blackburn, a Congressman from Tennessee and Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor, had to be bold about reform.
“The three great shining moments for the party in my life time were when we were perceived as committed to small government,” he said, recalling Barry Goldwater’s new conservatism in the 1960s, Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s and the Contract with America which Mr Armey authored with Newt Gingrich in the 1990s.
“When Republicans talk about big ideas on public policy they do well. When they talk about petty ideas for policy purposes as they have for five or six years and spend money like the Democrats then they disappoint voters,” he said.
Michael Steele, the party’s foremost African American official, said that didn’t mean being less conservative, but being less strident at times. “It means recognising that not everybody agrees with you and that you need to find areas of agreement. We need to reach out to blacks, Hispanics, Catholics show them they have another place to go apart from the Democrats.” Mrs Palin will undoubtedly be a contender for the Republican nomination in four years time and appears to have strong support from the party’s grassroots. Louisiana’s Indian-American Governor Bobby Jindal, who some see as the Republican Barack Obama, is another early front-runner.
If proof were required that US elections begin the day after the last one, it emerged last night that Mr Jindal is planning to visit Iowa later this month, the state that holds the first nominating contest in 2012.