Brian Birdnow

This week the world’s attention turns to Washington D.C. for the undoubtedly historic events of next Tuesday, but many seem to be overlooking a large and important sub theme that is developing concurrently. What is the current state and future direction of the vanquished Republican Party? Do the Republicans intend to emerge as a principled opposition group, do they plan on reverting to the “me-too” organ of the 1970s, or are they simply preparing to be flattened by the Obama-Democratic juggernaut? Sadly, for conservatives, the last of these options seems to be, at this point, the direction that the GOP is heading.

When attempting to gauge the current Republican drift it is useful to employ a certain historical perspective. The Republicans suffered a similar thrashing in 1992. This analogy, while not perfect, does show some parallels to the GOP debacle of 2008. First of all, the Republicans lurched into the autumn campaign in each year led by a lackluster candidate. Each time the Party elders insisted, quite correctly, that the candidate was a certified member of the “Greatest Generation”, a true war hero and a decent and honorable public servant. Unfortunately, for the Republican faithful their candidates excited no one, offered an empty vision, and crafted no coherent message. By contrast, in 1992 and 2008 the Democrats offered a perceived superstar in training and emphasized the youth and glamour of their nominee, shrewdly contrasting their supposed vigor with the tired, haggard, and worn GOP headliners. Also, in 1992, as in 2008 the Democrats skillfully hyped an economic downturn to their advantage, realizing that the Party out of the White House usually escapes blame for such difficulties. Finally, in each year the Republicans had to contend with a hostile media, while the Democrats and their television, newspaper and magazine allies shared a very public romance.

The similarities mentioned here culminated in stinging defeats for the Republican Party on the election days in 1992 and 2008. The Democrats won clear victories, if not landslides, in each of the two elections. Admittedly, the entire Republican ticket did better in 1992 than they did last November 4th, but a loss is still a loss.

Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.