The big wins posted by Democrats at the polls in November led to an all-out culture war within the Republican Party. Since then, the party has sought to redefine itself, re-imagine its purpose and reinvigorate its followers in order to be competitive again in 2010.
So far, not so much. But one of the important initial changes the GOP made in this direction was the election of Michael Steele as chairman of the Republican National Committee. The former lieutenant governor of Maryland is everything the Republican Party has not been over the past eight years under the presidency of George W. Bush: articulate, media-savvy, younger and ethnic.
By vowing to bring hip-hop Republicans and traditional Republicans back into the party fold, Steele represents a movement by which Republicans can counter the growth of confidence and support the Democrats are enjoying under the charismatic leadership of President Obama.
But before the GOP can start courting or counting new voters, it must deal with a base that has grown increasingly frustrated by the lack of party leadership. To fill that void, many conservatives have turned to commentator Rush Limbaugh as the one willing to stand up for their values and advance their views, and they are willing to get behind him rather than the GOP party structures in Washington and across the nation.
While Steele represents an effort to re-engage lost Republicans and attract new ones, Limbaugh represents the current base – a group often characterized (wrongly) as wealthy, elitist and racist.
Can you imagine the Republican Party’s growth potential if these diverging perspectives can find a way to coexist and walk together?
With a strengthened base that can effectively articulate the Republican history (the party of women’s suffrage, the end of slavery, and the support of black suffrage and civil rights legislation) and the Republican credo (smaller government, more private entrepreneurship and lower taxes), Steele’s outreach movement could proceed with a clear message and a steady hand.
If the intensity of the base, as represented by Limbaugh, can be contained and modulated by the class that Steele has shown while maneuvering to his current post, the Republicans would have the opportunity to advance their agenda and argue their positions in the kind of respectful atmosphere that has not been a part of the GOP playbook in decades.
If the messaging efficiency of Rush Limbaugh can find common cause with Steele’s long-term growth agenda, Republicans would have the chance to recapture the attention of a nation that naturally leans center-right in its politics.
Considering the contrasts in style and message between the Steele and Limbaugh camps, these are big “ifs.”
But if the Democrats can pull off the near-impossible trick of electing a relative unknown as the first black president of the United States, perhaps the Republicans can have a few impossible tricks up their sleeve as well.
Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and occasional co-host of “Fox News Rising” in Charlotte, N.C. He was recently named visiting fellow for the Center of New Politics and Policy at the University of Denver.