We've all read or heard plenty to persuade us that the Republican Party is basically on life support, not only at the federal level, but also in more and more states.
In my recent book, "Paranoid Nation," I wrote extensively about the GOP in the chapter "Paranoid Party." Based on those writings and on the research I did for them, I believe there may in fact be a blueprint for a future Republican comeback. But to understand it, we first need to rid ourselves for good of some of the misconceptions that linger among many of those who lament the decline and fall of the GOP.
As I noted in the book, revisionist history has left many a misty-eyed Republican or former GOP voter with the notion that Ronald Reagan was swept into office in 1980 because of his charisma, a satchel full of conservative ideas and a disastrous Carter administration.
For the record, the "Republican Establishment" in most of the nation in 1980 opposed Reagan in the early primaries and caucuses.
Why? First, he had challenged a sitting GOP president, Gerald Ford, just four years earlier. And Reagan had been labeled a loose-cannon ultra-conservative by the media.
Even at the convention that nominated him that summer, the GOP elite was plying every trick and stratagem to force one of their own onto the ticket. They succeeded by pushing the idea that Ford was willing to consider a run as Reagan's vice president; that is, if the duties of the presidency would in truth be divided between the two men. Within hours of this tactic, this party elite got its original wish: George H.W. Bush, one of their clique, became the VP nominee.
As for Carter being a weak candidate, that was true. But most folks conveniently forget that Reagan was trailing Carter in the polls going into the last four weeks of the race. It wasn't until the two debated on national television that America felt comfortable enough to elect Reagan -- who, of course, later was ranked by the public as one of the greatest presidents in history.
I unearth these little nuggets from the past to point out that "beloved" candidates who are charming and attractive don't always win. Or at least they need an extra nudge to propel them to victory.
In offering a potential blueprint for a GOP resurrection, I'll draw on a theme outlined in the book.
Every candidate or party needs one issue around which the faithful can rally. For Reagan, it was tax reform.
To expect candidates to be in lockstep on every big issue suggests a lack of political independence on their part. And it's the so-called "independent" swing voter the GOP must somehow persuade anew.
To me the key issue is simple enough, although it will need a new spin. Because of our crazy system of withholding income from paychecks, many Americans don't know how much they pay in federal taxes. Some even respond in surveys that they didn't pay taxes at all, but instead "got money back from the government" in the form of refunds.
Since it is impossible to educate an entire nation on the impact of the income tax itself, why not focus on the thing everyone openly hates -- having to decipher tax forms, or having to pay someone else to?
The Fair Tax can be effectively explained and defended. More, it could win immediate and widespread support with most Americans if it were instead packaged as the "Elimination of the U.S. Tax Return Act of 2012."
Conservatives love the Fair Tax idea already. But moderates and independent voters aren't as sure how it would benefit them. So reformers should promise two things: First, taxpayers will never have to fill out tax returns again. Second, their taxes won't increase, and will likely decline.
Americans love comfort and convenience. Sell tax reform, and they will latch on to it.
As for the lawyers, accountants and IRS employees who might lose out, well, what's one more bailout if it means that we end this archaic and Byzantine system of taxation?
Republicans, wake up! Rally around one simple but essential idea, and then let your candidates be free to take whatever sides they wish on other issues. To gather the strength needed to prosecute a full roster of political reform, conservatives must first take control of some one essential principle. The end of tax returns would be a huge first step.