The final myth is that of the “congressional bastion,” the idea that if the party out of the White House still controls a chamber of Congress and/or a number of state and local offices then it’s evidence that all is well and major change isn’t required. This is the most prevalent argument you hear from Republicans today; yes, the party has lost two presidential elections in convincing fashion, but the fact that it retains control of the House and has a chance to retake the Senate majority in 2014 are a testament to the continued strength of the GOP’s messaging. But, holding a House majority in a deeply gerrymandered set of districts is not the same as winning a national presidential election. And the 2012 election proved that the massive gains the GOP made in the 2010 midterms are more the exception than the rule.
The diagnosis by Galston and Kamarck of what ails the Republican Party is not new; Wehner and former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson wrote a terrific piece for Commentary magazine this past spring entitled “How to Save the Republican Party” that makes many of the same arguments.
Chris Cillizza is founder and editor of The Fix, a leading blog on state and national politics. He is the author of The Gospel According to the Fix: An Insider’s Guide to a Less than Holy World of Politics and an MSNBC contributor and political analyst. He also regularly appears on NBC and NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show. He joined The Post in 2005 and was named one of the top 50 journalists by Washingtonian in 2009.
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“There’s no substitute for a leader with the guts to break with outdated party orthodoxy, as Clinton did on trade, fiscal policy, welfare and crime among other issues,” Galston and Kamarck write. “And he did more than that: In that famous Sister Souljah episode, he spoke out against a tendency in the party’s base that crossed the line from protest to extremism.”
The obvious analog to Clinton in the modern Republican Party is former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Bush, like Clinton, spent much of his formative life as a governor and, on issues ranging from education to immigration, has shown a willingness to break from Republican orthodoxy and the party’s base.
Unlike Clinton, who long signaled his plan to run for president in advance of the 1992 race, Bush remains an elusive figure when it comes to his future plans. If Bush decides against a bid, there is no other obvious figure who fits the Clinton-circa-1992 mold, although Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) probably has the most chance to remake the Republican coalition among those candidates expected to run.
History has a way of repeating itself. Republicans would do well to realize that the Democratic Party of 1989 has many lessons to teach the GOP of today. And they would do well to realize it sooner rather than later.