The GOP's Silver Lining

Despite another loss in Minnesota, Republicans can begin their rebuilding with its 41 seats in the Senate.


Being a Republican on Capitol Hill may be a little lonelier over the next two years than it has been over the past two. In the U.S. Senate, Republicans can look back just two short election cycles and be wistful about what they've lost: a Republican president, a GOP-controlled Congress and, more broadly, the country’s confidence.

In the Senate, at least, they will not have to look on helplessly as Democrats go about governing with a filibuster-proof 60 seats. And therein may lay the seeds of the Republican rebirth.

With the victory of Georgia incumbent Saxby Chambliss in a December runoff, the GOP managed to deny Democrats the “Magic 60”—the number of senators needed to end a filibuster. Had the Democrats crossed that threshold, they would have had the chance to stampede their way through legislation that represents their version of solutions for America’s troubles. With one of the most liberal senators in the 110th Congress primed to lead as president during the 111th Congress, a filibuster-proof Senate would have allowed the far left on Capitol Hill to administer some of the more extreme aspects of their agenda to America.

The Magic 40 + 1 will allow Republicans some leverage in shaping—or stopping—critical legislation that will define the first two years of the Obama presidency. But it will take more than just minor or moral victories in the Senate to change the Republican Party’s minority status in many areas of the country.

Many will point to the red states that leaned Republican in the 2008 election, but as the Democrats have shown, a candidate can win 53 percent of the popular vote simply by winning highly populated states—and their large haul of electoral votes—and run away with a presidential election. If this pattern continues, American presidential politics will be dominated by politicians who can reliably count on the loyalties of voters in large states. And that, generally speaking, means states with large urban areas and diverse populations.

This is not the GOP's strength, and until the Republican Party makes a better play for those voters and gains a better understanding of their problems, the party may find itself on the outside looking in for very long time.

Some people believe that the turnaround of the Republican Party will begin with the emergence of a vibrant new presidential candidate (such as Govs. Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal) or with the election of a new RNC chairman (such as Michael Steele). However, the rhetoric of presidential candidates won’t matter much until sometime in late 2011 or early 2012, and, despite the electoral success on the Democratic side, the change in leadership at the RNC won’t have a huge impact initially, except for political junkies.

That leaves the Senate. The Republican Party can rekindle the magic of the Reagan years, for which it so often pines, through the work of the Magic 40 +1.

To secure a broader, more successful future, these GOP senators must be the chief ambassadors of the Republican message until 2010. These highest-ranking elected Republican officials in the country—our political rock stars—must set the tone as ethical, principled conservatives. They must reflect the promise of the party with a consistent and compassionate message that connects with America's common-sense values. They need to explain in simple terms how the everyday American will benefit from the application of Republican strategies, especially since the GOP has not yet been able to shed its image as a party of emotionless elitism.

Preaching the ethos of the free-market, “Shining City on a Hill” mindset from Capitol Hill does not work if that message does not translate in Pittsburgh’s Hill District or Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park, areas that are often negatively impacted (and offended) when the GOP espouses the message of “competition” and “pulling one up by one’s bootstraps” without offering much else in terms of solutions.