The recipe for Republicans is to stop acting like, well, Republicans--that is, Republicans of recent vintage. In Congress, they've been soft on earmarks, the source of so much corruption. They practically invited Democrats to trump them on ethics and lobbying reform. And they've allowed their obsession with illegal immigrants to get out of hand. This drives away Hispanic voters and leaves the impression that Republicans are small-minded, ungenerous and nasty. The worst offenders are the presidential candidates, who would be wise to tone down their rhetoric on immigration.
Transforming a negative image hardened over a period of years is no easy task. Still, there's a lot Republicans can do. First, they should clean house of Republicans caught up in scandal. Forcing two or three House members and at least one senator to retire would involve more than friendly persuasion and no doubt provoke strong resistance. But the effort would attract national attention--favorable attention, for a change.
Some of the best and most ethical Republicans believe earmarks are a worthwhile tool for incumbents. Maybe so, but they're now indelibly associated with corruption. This presents Republicans with a huge opportunity. Democrats have preserved earmarks. Republicans should advocate their elimination and, additionally, urge Mr. Bush to veto any bill containing earmarks. This would be a radical reform, which for Republicans means it's just what the doctor ordered.
As Karl Rove has noted, Republicans need a big idea. The best available is the one Mr. Bush abandoned: ownership. Allowing private investment of payroll taxes for Social Security would only be a start. An Ownership Society would allow individual Americans, rather than government, to control how and where their health care, public education, 401(k) and IRA funds are spent.
At the moment, wherever Republicans look there's mostly bad news. Democrats are raising more money. Their presidential candidates are generating more excitement. Polls show the public identifies with them by a wide margin. Yet there's a path to recovery, possibly even quick recovery. Republicans ought to take it.
Fred Barnes is executive editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.This article originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal.