Republicans are still searching for their voice eight months after losing the presidency. It is not unique that a party still be in search of itself after such a decisive loss. What is strange is the fact that personality politics and not policy debates are dominating the discussion. After all, we are still a long way from 2012 and it is too early to project a nominee. Yet, in recent days, it seems the attention has shifted from the Dick Cheney/Rush Limbaugh sideshow to the Sarah Palin/Newt Gingrich roadshow.
Just recently, Governor Palin delivered a speech in New York and made a well noticed appearance at a fundraiser where Newt Gingrich was the main speaker. David Letterman’s controversial top ten on Sarah Palin further served to keep the Alaska governor in the news. (Expect her to be a guest on the Letterman show soon as it reinforces her celebrity status.) Meanwhile, Gingrich is commenting daily and appearing on the Sunday news show regularly.
The effect on the GOP is hard to discern. The party seems in disarray despite occasional interventions to push the conservative viewpoint on crucial issues like the economy, national security and judicial activism. But no spokesperson seems to be emerging as a potential presidential candidate and no idea or policy proposal seems to be catching on. Palin clearly has a few ideas to offer but, beyond her obvious celebrity status, there is little to get excited about. Gingrich offers coherent and well articulated ideas, but still comes across as a polarizing figure. All this personality-driven activity only serves to muddle the GOP message.
Democrats are understandably overjoyed. Limbaugh, while not insignificant, is a marginal figure who does little to attract voters to the GOP. Cheney’s legacy tour also does not represent the future of his party; he is instead proving just how hard it is to spin the unspinnable. And now Palin and Gingrich, while they may be more serious potential contenders, are demonstrating their shortcomings every time they come out.
There is perhaps a ray of hope that the Republicans will soon find their voice. The economy is still in recession and, at best, will remain sluggish for some time to come. Obama’s agenda is really ambitious and could run into difficulty on healthcare and Middle East policy. In short, there are issues that will beckon a conservative alternative. Figures such as Morning Joe Scarborough, who have preferred talking about vision, principles and policies rather than personality, may be on to something. I am certain that this approach represents a bigger threat to the Obama people as the 2010 mid-term campaign begins to ramp up than the musings of Cheney, Limbaugh, Palin and Gingrich.