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GOP Glimpses Edge of the Abyss

10:08 AM, May 14, 2008 • By DEAN BARNETT
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The big election related news from yesterday had nothing to do with the nothing-burger in West Virginia. Sorry Clinton dead-enders - it's still over. The big news came from Mississippi where in a special congressional election, Democrat Travis Childers defeated Republican Greg Davis, 53-47. President Bush carried the district with 62% of the vote in 2004.

I know this all sounds very grim for what it might mean in the Fall, but worry not. The GOP has a plan. Representative Tom Cole, who has the unenviable task of heading the National Republican Congressional Committee this cycle, assures us the way out is really quite simple:

"The political environment is such that voters remain pessimistic about the direction of the country and the Republican Party in general. Therefore, Republicans must undertake bold efforts to define a forward-looking agenda that offers the kind of positive change voters are looking for. This is something we can do in cooperation with our presidential nominee, but time is short."

Bold efforts? A forward looking agenda? Positive change? Phew!! For a fleeting moment, I feared the GOP wouldn't have a clue as to how it should substantively respond to its impending electoral crisis.

Meanwhile, John Boehner, fresh off his bold and forward looking effort to distort Barack Obama's comments on Israel, bluntly suggests that the GOP should view yesterday's Mississippi returns as a "wake-up call:"

The results in MS-01 should serve as a wake-up call to Republican candidates nationwide. As I've said before, this is a change election, and if we want Americans to vote for us we have to convince them that we can fix Washington. Our presidential nominee, Senator McCain, is an agent of change; candidates who hope to succeed must show that they're willing and able to join McCain in a leading movement for reform. We need to stop wasteful Washington spending, fight and win the war on terror, and stop the largest tax increase in history. That is truly the change the American people deserve -- and that is a message on which we can succeed.

I don't mean to kick my party while it's going down, but the proper time to "wake-up" would have been after the 2006 midterms. Actually, waking up well before the 2006 elections would have been better still, but I'm an easy grader. Even after the 2006 wipeout, the party opted to practice business as usual, returning to leadership positions the same people who had authored the midterm disaster. The concept of bringing in a fresh face with fresh ideas manifested itself in restoring Trent Lott to a leadership role. Shockingly, the Lott Restoration failed to arrest the GOP's decline. Maybe if he had stuck around instead of going to K Street…well, we can dream, can't we?

Boehner's statement also shows the GOP does not intend to be outgunned in the vapid rhetoric department this fall. But is this wise? If we're going to rely on vapid rhetoric, isn't that playing on Barack Obama's home court? In case anyone from the McCain campaign is reading, I'll let you in on a little secret - if the presidential election boils down to who's the biggest agent of change, John McCain will not win.

For GOP candidates up and down the ticket, blathering clichés about change won't do any good. Neither will reactive messages like "Vote for us so we can stop the Democrats from raising your taxes." Instead, successful Republican candidates will outline serious and persuasive visions for America's economy and national security. Doing so won't be enough to win some races in this particular cycle, but at least there will be a nobility of purpose to the enterprise, something that has been sadly lacking all too often in recent years.