What is the GOP these days? If someone says, "I am with the GOP," what does that mean exactly?
According to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, most Americans cannot name one person who speaks for the Republican Party. Asked to identify "the main person who speaks for the Republicans today," 51 percent of the respondents, including self-identified Republicans, drew a blank.
Some people named radio host Rush Limbaugh (13 percent), former vice president Dick Cheney (10 percent), former House speaker Newt Gingrich (6 percent), former GOP presidential candidate John McCain (6 percent) — all of whom had been in the news recently for their scurrilous and persistent attacks on President Obama.
And what of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin? Well, four people — not 4 percent, mind you, but all of four people — named her.
At this critical crossroad in this nation's history, one of our two major political parties is without a recognizable leader and message to help guide them and the United States. What a shame! And I say that without an iota of irony or sarcasm.
The Republican Party has been dormant while Congress and the president tackle the important challenges facing the nation and chart an ambitious approach to problems old and recent. This brings me back to my initial question: What is the GOP these days? What does it mean to be a Republican? Since Republicans don't seem to be answering the question, I'll take a stab at it.
There are two GOPs today: the flame-throwers and the moderates jumping off the burning ship. The USS GOP has no captain, no destination, no direction. At some point, the more serious members will stand up and help retool the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Margaret Chase Smith, Jack Kemp and others to name a few.
The wannabe GOP leaders, and those raising their profile for the important 2012 presidential election, are setting their own ship of state afire with their constant stream of foul, rancid negativity. They always accuse the opposition of being harmful to our national interests, yet they propose no ideas or solutions of their own. And they never, ever seek compromise — not even with the moderates in their own party. In the theater of politics, they are arsonists who point fingers away from themselves while screaming "Fire!"
"If former President Dwight Eisenhower were alive," one Republican friend e-mailed me recently, "they'd be giving him the boot. They are making their bed, but they cannot make all of us lie in it with them."
The flame-throwers have no real interest in seeking bipartisan cooperation, even in matters of urgent national security. Whether holding office or not, their ongoing 24/7 campaign strategy is to politicize every issue and create partisan divides. And cable shows love them for it.
Personally, it's sad to watch. More personally, it's upsetting to become an unwilling participant in the kind of shrill debates that must leave the public scratching their heads. By frantically attacking everything the president does — and he does so much — his critics have become more and more hysterical as they try to keep pace with his level of action, ratcheting up the bile to create relevance for their daily blogs and cable news-show appearances.
The good news is that the American people have begun to catch on to the flame-throwers. Their worn-out strategy is wearing thin. Their empty rhetoric is falling on deaf ears. Their proposed solutions are recognized as having contributed to so many of the problems we are facing today. (The GOP has politicized the budget and the growing deficits without acknowledging that both the war in Iraq and their massive tax cuts for the rich contributed to both our country's short- and long-term debt.)
It would be funny if it weren't so despicable and destructive. If the Republicans cannot identify a leader or come up with new ideas, then they should be prepared for even larger losses in the next election.
What's left of the GOP is a party that only seeks to keep its most conservative heroes out front simply to energize the base by politicizing every single issue and furthering a partisan divide. That's fine when it comes to election time next year, but what about leaders who can focus on the real critical issues facing the country today?
Good riddance. Let a new, more healthy and a more vibrant GOP emerge. And let it compete with sound, constructive policy alternatives to help guide the country during these difficult times.
GOP moderates are jumping ship. Soon, there will be nothing left but the flame-throwers. So I ask: What is the GOP these days? If someone says, "I am with the GOP," what does that mean, exactly?
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR; contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill; and former campaign manager for Al Gore.
Copyright 2009, Donna Brazile.
Distributed by Newspaper Enterprise Assn.