Party leaders urged to embrace bold new direction or hit the road
WASHINGTON: So much for a lasting Republican majority.
The Republican Party is essentially in tatters, and not that long after President George W. Bush's 2000 election spurred talk of enduring Republican dominance.
Senator John McCain's shellacking, along with recent congressional losses, leaves the party searching for a new leader and identity.
'It's time for the losing to stop. And my commitment to you is that it will,' House Republican leader John Boehner told his rank and file after the party lost at least 19 congressional seats on Tuesday - on his watch.
Saying the party's image has been tainted by 'scandals and broken promises,' Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina declared: 'We have got to clean up, reform and rebuild the Republican Party before we can ask Americans to trust us again.' He called for party leaders to 'embrace a bold new direction' or hit the road.
Plenty of Republicans from the conservative to the liberal wings agree that the party is in shambles as the Bush presidency comes to a close.
Nearly two dozen prominent conservatives planned to meet in Virginia yesterday, the first of many sessions as the party seeks to try to chart a path going forward.
A fight for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee is expected; several state party chiefs are manoeuvring for the top national job even though Mr Mike Duncan is said to want to stay in the post.
To be sure, plenty of prospective White House hopefuls seem to be lining up for the chance to run against President-elect Barack Obama in 2012.
McCain running mate Sarah Palin has signalled that she will remain on the national political scene. Others, including champions of small government, see hope in Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal or Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Some in the shrinking moderate wing of the party are looking to Florida Governor Charlie Crist.
Also contending for party leadership could be former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who both lost bids for the Republican presidential nomination this year, as well as former House speaker Newt Gingrich.
Mr Duncan said it would be wrong to view the election results as 'the death rattle of American conservatism', pointing to a roster of rising stars that includes Mrs Palin, Governor Jindal, Virginia Representative Eric Cantor and Senator John Thune of South Dakota.
Republicans, he said, 'are going to take a deep breath and listen to the American people'. The party is creating a new online forum, called Republican for a Reason, that will allow people to explain 'how we let them down' and 'what we can do to restore confidence in our party', he said.
But as Republicans struggle to come to terms with their status as a powerless party in Washington, it is not clear how the GOP will define itself, let alone who will lead it.
'Everybody understands that we are going to go through a period of re-examining our identity,' said Mr Kevin Madden, a former aide to Mr Boehner.
'We are going to have to figure out how to rebuild the greater coalition of Republicans and independents and conservative Democrats on issues that really matter to voters,' he said.
That could be even more difficult as Republicans try to re-establish themselves in opposition to the new president. President-elect Barack Obama appropriated GOP messages about taxes and reform during the presidential campaign and may not push as liberal an agenda as many Republicans hope.
Tuesday's electoral losses culminate a campaign that took place in an extraordinarily challenging political environment for the party in power amid two lingering wars and a spreading economic crisis. President Bush's job approval ratings are at record lows and much of the country is demanding change.
It is all quite a reversal from just eight years ago, when it was the Democrats in disarray. In 2001, Mr Bush set up shop in the White House with Republicans firmly in control of both the House and Senate.
His chief strategist Karl Rove envisioned building a long-term Republican majority by broadening the party's base, in part by building support among women, labour groups and Hispanics.
Two years later, Mr Rove said: 'Political parties kill themselves, or are killed, not by the other political party but by their failure to adapt to new circumstances.' That turned out to be true - for the Republicans.
ASSOCIATED PRESS, BLOOMBERG, LOS ANGELES TIMES
[Comment: The quote at the end is telling. The PAP reinvents or adapts itself, which is part or a significant part of its continuing success. The PAP today is quite different from the PAP of 30 years ago. And other political parties need to understand that. The NSP is a new more relevant opposition. The Workers Party has also reinvented itself to be relevant and is seen as the future of the opposition. Chiam See Tong while a iconic opposition figure who has assured his footnote in history has no legacy as at today.]