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GOP, get back to where you once belonged

""Get back, get back. Get back to where you once belonged.' - The Beatles

The Republican Party is in distress. Doomsayers are everywhere. Republican National Committee Chairman Robert M. Duncan complains that conservative, pro-life, pro-gun Democrats won three special elections by stealing GOP issues.

""We can't let the Democrats take our issues,' Duncan told the New York Times. ""We can't let them pretend to be conservatives and co-opt the middle and win these elections. We have to get the attention of our incumbents and candidates and make sure they understand this.'

Democrats didn't steal your issues, sir. You abandoned them. Your party discarded them. Democrats simply engaged in Dumpster harvesting.

Unable to win by labeling Democrats ""liberals,' Republicans don't know what to do. Labeling worked before. Why isn't it working now? The answer is that it only works in combination with superior ideas, which you then contrast to those of your ""liberal' opponent. You can't do that credibly unless you have embraced those ideas and sought to implement them. Republicans traded in their ideas in favor of gaining and keeping power as their sole objective. The party wants credit for giving lip service to its abandoned ideology while it practices cave-in politics.

John McCain has promised to bring Democrats into his Cabinet and work with Democrats in Congress. Does that mean ideas don't matter? Does it mean that when Democrats disagree with him he will embrace their ideas just to get along? If so, why should voters vote Republican? They might as well vote for Democrats and get their liberalism straight-up.

Which of the principles articulated by Ronald Reagan, and the conservative revolution he led, does the GOP believe has failed? Lower taxes? Reduced spending and smaller government? Self-reliance? Strong defense? Defeating our enemies so they will fear and respect us, instead of appeasing them in hopes that they might like us? If such principles remain valid, why don't more Republicans articulate them?

I asked Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., about this. Pence is one of the shrinking number of Republicans who still has principles on which he stands. What is his vision for a GOP resurgence?

""My vision for renewing our party in 2008,' he said, ""is the same as it was when I ran (unsuccessfully) for leader after the 2006 elections: I believe the way back to a Republican Majority is to the Right.'

During his campaign for Minority Leader in 2006, Pence said, ""Our new Republican minority must rededicate itself to the ideals and standards that minted our majority in 1994. Only by renewing our commitment to fight for the principles embodied in the Contract with America can we hope to have the credibility to earn back the opportunity to lead this national legislature.

""We will only defeat the Democrat agenda by presenting a positive, conservative message in vivid contrast to the big government liberalism of the new majority. To renew our majority, we must offer this nation a compelling vision of fiscal discipline and reform. ... We must again embrace the notion that Republicans seek the majority not simply to govern but to change government for the better. We are the agents of change and we must return to that reformist vision.'

Is there a Republican who objects to this vision? Is there one, besides Pence, who has it?

In 1977, Ronald Reagan spoke of principles that transcend eras: ""We, the members of the New Republican Party, believe that the preservation and enhancement of the values that strengthen and protect individual freedom, family life, communities and neighborhoods and the liberty of our beloved nation should be at the heart of any legislative or political program presented to the American people. ... Our task now is not to sell a philosophy, but to make the majority of Americans, who already share that philosophy, see that modern conservatism offers them a political home. ... The job is ours and the job must be done. If not by us, who? If not now, when? Our party must be the party of the individual. It must not sell out the individual to cater to the group. No greater challenge faces our society today than ensuring that each one of us can maintain his dignity and his identity in an increasingly complex, centralized society.'

For Republicans to win - and be worthy of winning - they need to get back to where they belong.

E-mail nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas at calthomas@tribune.com.