The Future of the Republican Party
A. JAMES REICHLEY
The victory of Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, accompanied by large Democratic gains in Congress, appeared to throw the Republican Party into crises of political confidence and even existential identity.
Obama’s majority of about 7 percent in the popular vote, while decisive, did not approach the landslide victories won by Lyndon Johnson in 1964 or Ronald Reagan in 1984. Yet Republicans, who only four years before had looked forward to the emergence of a permanent, or at least extended, Republican majority in national politics, were stricken by anxiety that their party might be locked into minority status for the foreseeable future, perhaps reduced to a few rural strongholds in the Deep South, Appalachia, and the Great Plains, and remorse that the party’s fall had been to a large degree self-inflicted.
Republican officeholders and activists after the election repeated over and over the lament that the party had “lost its way.” Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina admitted, “We think the whole problem is George Bush and not us, and we’re part of the problem.” Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who had been on John McCain’s short list of possible running mates, told a conference of Republican governors, “We cannot be a majority party when we essentially cannot compete in the Northeast, we are losing our ability to compete on the West Coast, we are increasingly in danger of not competing in the Mid-Atlantic states, and the Democrats are now winning some of the Western [Rocky Mountain] states. This is not a formula for a majority governing party in this nation.” Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, the newest and youngest of the Republican governors, agreed: “The voters fired us with cause.”1
Political analysts among the liberal commentariat were glad to confirm this anxiety. The pollster Peter Hart asserted, “This was a transformational election. Whatever used to be true is not going to be true for the future. We are headed toward a potential center-left nation of tomorrow.” The columnist E. J. Dionne confidently declared, “The Republican Party is now wholly owned by the conservative movement. The new Democratic majority is built in part on voters who once thought of themselves