Indistinguishable

It's fun to get the liberal perspective on what the GOP needs to become relevant again.
So what do you do with a sunken party, one whose base has been whittled down to the South, the Plains, and parts of the interior West?
Mostly though, it's best to ignore folks like Scot Lehigh, writing on the subject in the Boston Globe.
"I was stunned after the election to read comments by some of my conservative colleagues in the Senate and some conservative pundits that the problem was that we weren't conservative enough," says US Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine. "There is no way you can look at the election results across the country and reach that conclusion."
I'm not sure I'd go that far. Republicans are not very popular right now, there's no doubt. I'd say the main reasons for that are 1) the Bush administration is perceived as uncaring and incompetent, 2) people are tired of the war, and 3) the economy sucks. That doesn't mean that the GOP is in as deep a funk as Lehigh, and others, would have us think.
Conservatives who prescribe a rightward tack insist that the US remains a center-right country. After all, exit polls showed that 44 percent of voters call themselves moderates, 34 percent conservative, and 22 percent liberal. That, however, overlooks the critical issue of how the moderates vote. This time, they favored Barack Obama over John McCain by 60 percent to 39 percent, notes Gary Langer, director of polling for ABC News. Further, though there was no party identification gap in 2004, this time 39 percent of voters said they were Democrats, compared with 32 percent who said Republican.
I would remind Scot that only 22 percent of those polled consider themselves liberals. Which means that one could easily write a book entitled, "What's Wrong With America?" exploring why the country votes people into power whose philosophies it doesn't buy. The answer would be that when fatigue with the current management is high, people toggle vote - they opt for the other party - regardless of whether they agree with them or not. Which doesn't bode all that well for the Dems, who over the past 40 years, have only won the presidency when extraordinary events occur.
The plight of the GOP in New England offers a clear window into the party's larger problems. On Election Day, US Representative Chris Shays, the Connecticut moderate, lost his seat, as did more conservative Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire. In 2006, moderate Rhode Island Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee suffered the same fate. They lost not because voters desired more conservative candidates, but because of a backlash against the national GOP.
This year, Collins, who enjoys a reputation as a commonsensical, results-oriented senator, holds a singular distinction: She was the only Republican running for federal office in New England to win. Thus she bears listening to.
A reasonable argument can be made, however, that toggle voting is the only alternative left to voters when the two parties are indistinguishable. Had Republicans not let spending run wild like they were liberals while doing a slow, incompetent job of winning the war in Iraq and squandering billions on an uninspired, unsuccessful response to Katrina, they could have made a strong argument that they should be kept in power even with the bad economy. They could have pointed to their success in remaining true to conservative values of small, competent government that does what must be done and otherwise stays out of the way.
Sensible Republicans might also want to abandon the party's fixation with protecting tax cuts for a small slice of upper-earners and focus instead on shoring up the middle class. They might conclude that it's time to jettison wrong-headed notions that deficits don't matter and that tax cuts pay for themselves, and return to the prudent Main Street Republicanism of years past.
Or, they might want to make ends meet while cutting people's taxes, if they ever get the opportunity to cut taxes again.
They might abandon a good-versus-evil view of the world and embrace a foreign policy based on a sober evaluation of global complexities. They might conclude that economic and fiscal issues should take precedence over social issues - and that the GOP can't be a big, tolerant tent if conservative zealots try to veto those whose views don't conform to theirs.
That might be good advice, but it isn't a rebuttal of the argument that the GOP should stay true to values if it wants to win future elections. Social values become secondary when you don't manage the government successfully.
"What binds the GOP together should not be the social issues as much as economic issues and governing issues," says Ron Kaufman, White House political director under President George H.W. Bush.
These arguments are about emphasis - about how the party packages itself, not about what it's fundamental principles are. The return to basic values has to do with remembering what the Republican party is, and why it wants power. Remember, John McCain suffered from low turnout of his base, a reflection of the sense of betrayal that Republicans feel.
They might rue the role ridiculous ranting figures like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and their lesser imitators (now there's a concept for you) have arrogated to themselves as what we'll loosely call Republican thought leaders. And if they don't? Well, it's going to be a long, rocky road back to relevance.
One way to be entirely relevant would be to remain indistinguishable from Democrats. Obama, and the Democrats in Congress, need a balancing force to keep them honest while they oversee the largest merger of the government with big business in human history.