Mike McDonel

I’d felt the specter of inevitability looming over Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) campaign since Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was anointed as the Democratic Party’s candidate for president. Forget the tired adage of carrying a monkey on your back. As a Republican, I felt like the undersized defensive lineman playing for Air Force, staring into the eyes of a 300 pound, All-American o-lineman from LSU. Not into sports metaphors? Imagine being the poor schmuck rolling up to the monster truck rally in a Honda Civic. No matter which way you swing it, I knew that my party and I were in for an electoral beat-down of epic proportions-and it was a long time coming. The 2006 Democratic Congressional takeover orchestrated by Congressman Rahm Emmanuel (D-Ill.)-the man tapped to be the next White House Chief of Staff-served as a mere preview of last Tuesday’s results. Washington politics is a lot like Darwinism. You either adapt to your environment or you’ll become extinct. My Grand Old Party showed its age, failed to adapt and now faces its own extinction. So how do we evolve and where do we start?

Plainly, the GOP needs an identity. One of the most popular post-election drinking games allegedly centered around throwing one back every time a cable TV pundit mentioned the words “Republican” and “brand” in the same sentence. If you played along as the results came in you’re probably still hung over. Frankly, I’m a little sick of the word “brand.” The Republican Party must do so much more than come up with a shiny new marketing strategy to slap on some bumper stickers. It must candidly and unapologetically decide what it believes and then act accordingly. As I was considering my party’s schizophrenic behavior last weekend, I decided to list the issues that defined the GOP and consider my party’s performance for each issue.

First and foremost, I decided Republicans should embrace the free market while practicing careful spending and small government. Then, I remembered that the vast majority of Republicans recently backed the nationalization of a crumbling financial sector and that the Bush Administration managed to rack up a debt in excess of 10 trillion bucks. Oh, but then we’re the party of family values! Right. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) is tapping his foot in an airport bathroom to solicit sex, Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) is sending hot-and-heavy text messages to underage male pages, and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is now officially a convicted felon. Tactful foreign policy? Say what you will about Iraq, but Afghanistan has been sorely neglected and our relationships with our allies are in tatters. In short, the American people used this election to call out the GOP for saying one thing and doing another.

Here’s the good news for my fellow elephants: though exit polls showed an upswing for the Democrats in party identification, there was no such shift when it came to voters’ identification as liberal, moderate or conservative, and the polls illustrated that we are still very much a center-right country. And every Republican governor up for re-election kept their job. So, how did the Republicans lose the presidency and a bunch of congressional seats? We overlooked the “center” part of center-right and pandered to the right wing while the Obama campaign wooed the center of the electorate with a message of hope, change, and help for the middle class-bad play-calling on our part. Nevertheless, a few right-wing loudmouths like Rush Limbaugh seized McCain’s loss as an opportunity to argue for the party’s return to pure conservatism. What? Did you miss the entire election cycle or just the last 6 months of it? Despite my differences with Obama’s policy positions, one of his campaign themes rang true for me as a Republican. The GOP, not just the United States, needs a “change we can believe in.” I’m tired of emphasizing “moderate” and being embarrassed to finish with “Republican” every time I’m asked to describe my political views. If we’re going to survive as a party we need to re-identify the GOP as a distinctly center-right party, not a right wing party. Our rallying cry must be cemented in a clear message of small government, controlled spending and tax cuts, restrained foreign policy and individual freedoms-this means adopting some distinctly libertarian traits. We need a leader who will facilitate this shift.

It’s downright laughable to propose a candidate for the 2012 Presidential election, but I’ll try to tell you who it shouldn’t be. Mike Huckabee better stick with his new talk show on Fox News and keep his tired rhetoric to himself. Mitt Romney’s more attractive when it comes to policy, but he’s just another aging white guy in a party in desperate need of a new face, new blood and new ideas. Let me be clear, Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) doesn’t count as one of those new faces. She’s your prototypical right-winger and proved herself to be significantly unprepared for national office throughout the campaign. Unless she manages to secure Sen. Ted Stevens’ soon-to-be-available Senate seat, score a spot on the foreign relations and become a diplomacy guru, I will register myself as an Independent if she receives the Republican nod in 2012. The problem is that there is no clear standard-bearer to direct the GOP toward its badly-needed renaissance, and until we find sound and charismatic leadership we will continue to flounder. Whoever emerges as the next leader of the party has a profoundly difficult job waiting. We must end the ugly Republican trend of villainizing groups like homosexuals and immigrants, stop spewing holier-than-thou ultra-conservative rhetoric and instead must offer voters a simple, cohesive and positive package of platforms with which a broader swath of voters can relate. My Republican party has gone the way of the dinosaurs 200 million years ago. The comet is coming, and it’s time to either evolve or enter the fossil record.