Friday, October 31, 2008

Some Republicans think about erecting a bigger tent, but...

If Republicans get drubbed in the election, which way will they go? Will they keep trying to energize their base -- or will they return to the "big tent" approach that prevailed in the Reagan years? In a new piece, Kimberley Strassel, the Wall Street Journal's Potomac Watch columnist, argues for the big tent -- or at least a bigger tent.

Some other Republican thinkers -- like David Frum and David Brooks -- are saying the same thing, but the passionate believers who rally the base aren't yielding. They are already preparing to hoist SARAH PALIN IN 2001 banners.

Ideologically, the GOP is going through the same agonies that gripped the Democrats after their New Deal-Fair Deal-Great Society big-government programs didn't work in an America whose aspirations were increasingly middle class and geography increasingly suburban.

"Joe the Plumber" incantations will rouse the Republican base, but they don't address problems like how to dig out from a financial crisis that circles the globe, re-energize the U.S. economy and create more winners than losers (like auto workers) and enact an immigration law that balances strictness with openness. That's just for starters.

Sadly, John McCain came to the presidential race with a political history that suggested he would enlarge the GOP tent. But he shaped his campaign to appeal to the base. Why such a political maverick would have made such a conventional move is puzzling. As Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum said in her "Why McCain Lost Me" piece earlier this week, McCain is no die-cast base politico. Maybe he went with the base because he felt he had to keep proving himself to the diehards who were cool toward him -- until he chose Palin.

If the election goes as the polls are forecasting, the Republicans will not only have to decide which direction to go in -- hunker in with the base or build a bigger tent -- but who will lead them in the struggle to a solution. If Palin is leading the base, who will be her opposite?

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