'Rock-Bottom' Republicans Begin Inquest
Senior Republicans were gathered in a secluded location in the Virginia countryside yesterday for an inquest into Tuesday night's devastating elections losses and discussion of how to rebrand the party.
The meeting in Shenandoah Valley is the first of scores of inquests into the election defeats to be held over the coming months, some in public and others in the privacy of homes or committee rooms in Congress.
The immediate battle between right-wing and moderate Republicans is over who should become the public face of the party, heading the Republican National Committee. The 168-member RNC will elect its new chairman after Barack Obama's presidential inauguration on January 20. They gather on January 21 for a three-day discussion.
Republicans at the Shenandoah meeting, representing organisations primarily on the party's conservative wing, have a lengthy agenda stretching from new leaders through to the ideological battle over which direction the party should go in.
In a sign of how far the party has fallen, the Republicans set up a hotline and website yesterday appealing for suggestions from the public on how to rebuild.
It is a long way from the ambition of Karl Rove, George Bush's strategy adviser, four years ago to build a party that would dominate US politics for a generation.
A Republican congressman from Michigan, Thaddeus McCotter, told the Washington Times: "We're rock bottom. We are now free to start thinking again, acting again, and doing the right thing by what our constituents and our country need."
Ed Rogers, a White House staffer under Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr, in an article for the Washington Post, wrote: "Let the autopsy begin ... We didn't just lose, we got beat ... Republicans must learn from their mistakes and come back with a clear purpose and a clear definition of what being a Republican means."
"The Republican brand of politics worked in the 1980s world, but it needs to be re-configured for 2010 and 2012," said Rich Galen, a party consultant and a former adviser to Newt Gingrich. "We had a 20th-century message that we were trying to bang into a 21st-century world, and it clearly did not work."
The impact of Tuesday was not so much the losses but that it came after the defeats in the congressional mid-term election in 2006. The Republicans have to search back decades to find consecutive election defeats on this scale.
"We have got to clean up, reform and rebuild the Republican party before we can ask Americans to trust us again," Jim DeMint, a South Carolina senator, told reporters. "This must begin with either a change or command at the highest levels or our current leaders must embrace a bold new direction."
Yesterday's meeting was held at the home of Brent Bozell, head of the Media Research Centre. About 20 people were invited including key grassroots organisers, top fundraisers and the heads of influential conservative groups such as Grover Norquist, of Americans for Tax Reform.
Their aim is to ensure that as the party seeks to rebrand itself, it does not divert too far from its traditional values.
Republicans hope they can revive the party in time for the 2010 congressional mid-terms. Given that Obama will be president at a time of economic crisis, his honeymoon period might be short-lived, with a backlash that the Republicans could benefit from. In the longer run, initial discussions are also under way about who should be in the running as the next presidential candidate.