Cast out of Washington, Republicans Rethink

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew Romano

For most Republicans, losing 21 seats in the House, seven seats in the Senate and the leadership of the free world isn't cause for celebration. But most Republicans aren't governors. When the GOP state executives met in Miami in mid-November for the annual Republican Governors Association conference, newspaper reporters used words like "glum" and "weary" to describe the mood. Apparently, they weren't watching TV. Between meetings, a crush of eager politicians swarmed the CNN, MSNBC and Fox cameras to explain how the GOP should "right its ship"--in their humble opinions. "Governors are going to be a natural group that can help the Republican Party get back on its feet," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, 37, tells NEWSWEEK. "And not just me, but Republican governors all over this country."

In the coming years, plenty of well-paid professionals will provide the party with all the advice it can absorb. But now that the Democrats control Congress and the White House for the first time since 1994, only the GOP's 21 incoming and incumbent state executives will actually have the power to prove that Republican rule can work. "Our friends in [Washington] are in a minority, and there's not much they can do but obstruct, complain and occasionally defeat bad policy," Mississippi Gov. and former RNC chairman Haley Barbour noted in Miami. "But they can't propose Republican ideas, much less put them into effect." No wonder Barbour & Co.aare so cheery. In 1976, Georgia's Jimmy Carter reclaimed the White House after eight years of Nixon and Ford; it took a former California governor, Reagan, to revive the GOP. Later, pragmatic execs like Wisconsin's Tommy Thompson and Michigan's John Engler led the Republican resurgence of the early and mid-1990s, eventually propelling Gov. George W. Bush of Texas into the Oval Office. Byamaking strides on the state level,aa new generation of governors is now poised toarebuild the GOP for the Age of Obama--and in the process position themselves to lead the party in 2012.

While these rising Republican stars generally agree on a few fundamental principles--root out corruption, focus on substance, restrain spending--they split into conflicting camps in terms of how they actually govern. Their differences will define where the GOP goes next.aOn one side are the Traditionalists: "The people," as New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote, "who believe that conservatives"--like, say, John McCain--"have lost elections because they have strayed from the true creed." With a proven talent for rallying values voters, Sarah Palin is the group's undisputed darling, and party leaders will be watching how she governs (and grows) in Alaska. …