There is no equivalent vehicle for Republicans today. National party committees can do many things, but mostly they have to do with raising money and the mechanics of turning out voters. They are not idea factories. Nor have many elected officials stepped forward to lead the effort.
At the recent CPAC meeting, the two Republicans who spoke most directly about changing the party — former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky — offered strikingly different prescriptions. The intersection of thinkers and elected officials was a key element in the Democrats’ revival, and it will have to be part of the GOP’s efforts over time.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus outlines some of the changes he thinks the GOP should make for the 2016 campaign season.
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Stan Greenberg, the Democratic pollster who was part of Clinton’s 1992 campaign, pointed to another reality of changing a party. Clinton, he said, used his nomination battle to take on entrenched interests and challenge the party’s liberal wing. Whether advocating welfare reform, calling for more police on the streets or arguing in union halls for free trade, Clinton conveyed the impression that he had learned the lessons of his party’s defeat. When he became the nominee, he had earned the credibility he and his party needed to wage a successful general election.
A long way to go
Based on the Democrats’ history, what Priebus has begun could have a long way to run before Republicans can look to consistent success in presidential races. “You get a change in the party when three things come together — new ideas, a new organizational base and an attractive new standard-bearer who understands the ideas and this new orientation in his bones,” Galston said. “It’s not something you learn in a briefing book.”
Nothing is permanent in politics. Parties change along with the country. Republicans have some of the building blocks upon which to begin the process of renewal. They aren’t likely to look to Democrats for advice as they do it, but that might not be a bad idea. If the Democrats’ example is any guide, the Priebus-inspired report is far from the last word.
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