If the Republican Party is going to regain the power it held in the late 1990s and during the early days of George W. Bush’s presidency, it must stop fighting battles it can’t win, and present an alternative future to the American public.
That was the message Richard A. Galen delivered on April 8 to a crowd at the McNally Amphitheatre on Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus.
In his talk, “Resurrecting the GOP: Bringing Back the Party of Lincoln in the Era of Obama,” Galen, a columnist, political strategist and former press secretary for high-ranking Republicans, took pains to note that though the situation may seem bleak for the GOP, the political current can change quickly.
He noted that George W. Bush had similar poll numbers in April of his first year to Barack Obama’s current numbers, even though Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore. The analogy to national politics he offered was body surfing, which requires a person to match his or her momentum to that of a wave.
“The secret to any political operation is judging where you are on that wave, and making sure that you’re paddling, so that when you are on the upswing, you’re ready for it,” he said.
Galen said Republicans could learn from the Bush administration’s mistaken belief that it did not really need to explain itself to the public.
“There’s an old saying in politics, that if you don’t define yourself, your opponent will do it for you. And that works in policy too. If you don’t define your policy, then your opponents will do it for you, and once you get on the wrong side of that policy debate, it’s very difficult to get back.”
There are other parallels between Obama and Bush, Galen said, including how the Obama administration is using the global recession exactly how the Bush administration used 9/11—to pass a raft of new legislation while the nation is in panic mode.
Galen said Republicans should describe a policy future that will be uncomfortable for a majority of Americans, and say, “Let’s back off a little before we go charging down this road.”
Republicans can do this because they understand the effects of economic change and economic theory, and can sell their vision as the future Americans probably would want, if the GOP can explain it properly.
“You have to provide an alternative future, not an alternative present. I think that’s where Republicans in the House and Senate are making a mistake. They’re trying to do battle with their counterparts on a day-by-day basis,” he said. “Don’t worry about what’s happening today, but look out and say, ‘If we do this, then that’s the future.’”
Galen’s talk was sponsored by the Fordham Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy.