Clinton's point (and mine over the years) is that ideas carry weight -- and elections. But ideas don't always have to mean new government programs. They can also mean reductions, eliminations, restrictions and limitations. Current polling suggests that Republican candidates that run on a platform of "less is more" won't necessarily be seen as being negative, but rather as constructive. Less spending, less interference with the free-market economy, and fewer new White House advisors and "czars" -- those are some of the ideas that might make a solid platform from which a Republican might launch a successful campaign for president in 2012.
Another swipe at the GOP is that it has no new faces or fresh blood to enter the political arena. That's off-base too. Early polling shows that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is a likeable new player in GOP politics. And then there is the intense support for former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. That breadth and sustainability of that deep support is hard to quantify right now, but Palin can hardly be dismissed, as some pundits do.
Also telling for Republican voting trends going forward were the results of a lightly publicized special election for state Senate in Florida earlier this month. (I wrote about it in a recent column.) The Democrats put forth no viable candidate in the race, so the race was effectively decided in the Republican primary.
Thanks in large part to a voter turnout that was nearly twice as high as expected in this northeast Florida primary, it was the veteran ex-speaker of the state House who won by a fairly decisive margin. He bested a relative newcomer candidate whose best-known political ties were to the recent "Tea Party" efforts, and to those within that movement who are generally anti-tax, pro-business voters.
He finished ahead of other candidates who had previously held elective office. That's important in this conservative area of a bellwether state for conservatives. It showed that "Tea Party Republicans" can be a force. But it also showed that these voters want elected officials with experience.
This stands to reason when you consider that many Americans say in public opinion polls that they are concerned about the lack of experience of President Obama and of many working in his White House. People want a workable mix of ideology and experience in their leaders. That should be good news to Republicans like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.
Above all, this much is near-certain: Current trends tell us that the Republican Party's best chance to regain power is to put forth the philosophy that elevated the GOP starting with the rise of Ronald Reagan, and that somehow got lost in the George W. Bush years: to the greatest extent possible, keep government out of our lives.