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 V.17 No.45 | November 6 - 12, 2008 

Ortiz y Pino

What Happened to the Republicans?

As I write this, one week before the votes get counted in this year’s election, the question I still can’t answer satisfactorily is “What the heck happened to the Republican Party?”

Time was (not too long ago) when they were firmly in control of all three branches of the national government and even seemed poised to make a run at grabbing control of the New Mexico Legislature.

No more. In the face of what might be the most overwhelming Democratic victory since Lyndon Johnson rendered Barry Goldwater an obscure footnote in the history books, one can only wonder what produced such a complete self-immolation as the GOP has just experienced.

It is a little risky to start asking this question before the votes are counted, but it would take a turnaround of unprecedented proportions to prevent the coming Democratic landslide, and nothing McCain, Palin and their followers are putting forward seems capable of that kind of table-turning.

At this juncture, the only unresolved issue is just how devastating the defeat will be for the party of Abraham Lincoln—who has to be rotating rapidly in his grave at the type of campaign his political descendants have waged.

The question is not simply how badly they’re losing but how horribly bankrupt their storehouse of ideas, policies and credibility has become. And how fast it all went bad.

For a first stab at explaining this, I revert to baseball. It is a field of endeavor that helps me understand human activity and one to which I return whenever I am puzzled. In the political realm this year, the Republicans are the New York Yankees.

They field a lineup of well-established, very expensive stars. That approach used to produce world championships, routinely. But in recent years, they regularly fold in the face of younger teams’ energy and innovations. The Yankees/Republicans have stuck to an outdated strategy ... and they are getting older, slower and ever more top-heavy.

The GOP has become thin in depth, subject to injury and unable to respond quickly to changes in how the game is played. They can still trot out a few heavy hitters, and their pitchers love to throw at the opposition’s heads, but winning eludes them because they haven’t taken care of the dozens of little things that go into successful election efforts.

The Republicans’ share of registered voters continues to dip. Less than one-third of New Mexico voters are registered as Republicans while Democrats are more than 50 percent, and the gap between the two major parties grew by at least 40,000 voters this year alone (four years ago Bush won by less than 5,000 votes here).

The Congress that convenes in Washington in January will certainly have many fewer Republicans than the one that is currently seated, and it may actually provide the 60 Senate votes the Democrats need to block filibuster attempts.

In New Mexico, Republicans are in peril of losing all five of our Congressional seats—and at the moment they hold three of them. They may see their numbers in the Legislature dwindle even lower than the minority positions they have held for the past decade. They didn’t even field candidates in more than 20 legislative races.

But the most shocking weakness that’s been revealed in the Republican lineup is the fundraising deficit. Over the years, one truism of New Mexico (and national) politics has been that Republican money overcomes Democratic numbers. Not this year. All up and down the line, the GOP has been outspent, out-financed and outwitted.

Their television ads seem dark, whiny, wounded. Their so-called bright new star, Darren White (running for the First Congressional District), has spent his television money trying to cast doubts about his opponent, Martin Heinrich ... even though White started the race with an enormous advantage in name recognition. Each time he pays his own campaign money to put Heinrich’s name on the tube, White has perversely eroded his principal advantage. Now Heinrich’s name is as well-known as White’s.

As the leader of the Republican ticket statewide, Steve Pearce defeated a centrist Republican (Heather Wilson) in the primary ... and has since moved farther and farther into right field, ensuring that precious few independents and almost zero Democrats will support him. The only candidate to the right of Pearce is his southern congressional district running mate, Ed Tinsley, whose increasingly strident rhetoric has brought victory within the grasp of his opponent, Harry Teague.

What ails the GOP in New Mexico is what ails it nationally: It hitched its wagon to a single engine, the Conservatism Express, and rode it close to the top. Now that conservatism has lost its appeal and its economic fairy tales have proven unable to stay afloat in stormy economic times, the GOP has nowhere else to turn. It is sinking as rapidly as the “free market” fortunes it helped create in the first place.

For all of us, not just Republicans, this poses a dilemma. The U.S. and New Mexico both need a vital opposition party to prevent the Democrats from once again making the same mistakes they’ve made in the past. A two-party system doesn’t work particularly well if there is only one party. If the Republicans can’t attract new, young, energetic candidates, then ideas, voters and eventually even the Democrats will be negatively affected.

Of course, in New Mexico the opposition might very well emerge from the Green Party if the Republicans aren’t up to the task. Over the years, the New Mexico Greens have served the very useful function of keeping the Democrats’ feet on the ground. Now more than ever, that stabilization mustn’t be neglected.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail

Public Comments (1)
  • The (Hopeful) Future of my party  [ Thu Nov 6 2008 10:30 AM ]

    I would dispute that the Republican philosophy is outdated and cumbersome. I would agree, though, that as a party we've forgotten the meaning of the basic tenants of our party: fiscal responsibility, social conservancy, and national security. These are the three things that our party has paid lip service to, then ground into the mud, for the reign of the “neo-cons” in the party, and until we remember them not just in our words but our deeds, as a political party we're doomed.

    We are facing the largest national debt in the history of our country. The dollar is falling compared to the vast majority of the world's currencies, our economy is at best slowing, at worst going into a depression, and unemployment is skyrocketing. The government has been spending so fast that it hasn't even considered where the money's going, or how effective the measures being taken are. Welcome to the hole that we've dug for ourselves. The only way out is going to be to moderate spending (since there's no way the government can run for free, as much as we would love that), to make sure that we're using the most effective programs as far as cost and result, no matter who proposes them, and to constantly be looking for new ideas, new option, and new ways of working to make the needed changes in the financial future of the country. We face an uphill battle fiscally, and must pull our belts tighter at every step to to the most with the least cost.

    The founders of this country were incredibly diverse: Quakers, deists, Presbyterians, Catholics.... The only way that we were able to make a united government was by specifying the limits of what the government would do, and respecting them. We've forgotten these limits, and it's tearing our nation apart, leading to social and political polarization that cost us this election. Is it moral to listen in (or read, or watch) someone that has not done anything wrong, as the PATRIOT Acts allow? I don't think so. Is it morally responsible to allow the increasing violence between one group and another, whoever they are (pro-choice vs. pro-life, racial violence, religious violence)? Again, I don't think so. We need to look past the personal differences to face the challenges of today without adding to them by picking petty fights with everyone we can to spread blame. We need to pick our battles, and make them MEAN something.

    We're faced with an enemy that can't be labeled, has no nationality, no common faith, no common philosophy, only the ends to their means: terror. Without a concerted, effective effort, this enemy will do anything it wants to change our society, and in some ways it has already won. The Bush administration has managed to spend an incredible amount of money with little to no result. Historically speaking, when the Manhattan Project was nearing the end of its work, there was a concern that the device would be too heavy to carry in a plane, so they considered sending it to the target in a ship. The concept is still viable, something that was recognized very early on. Less than ½ of 1% of all cargo containers coming into this country are searched. How is this protecting us? The Department of Homeland Security has demonstrated itself to be just as uncoordinated as its components were. What was the point of this costly venture? Iraq has become a breeding ground for insurgents, for resentment against the US, and has been sapping our world influence since Gen. Powell's speech to the UN. How is this making our country safer? We declared North Korea part of the Axis of Evil, then walked away without changing anything. In retaliation, they proved that they can send a nuclear device to a Japanese city in a multi-stage missile. What purpose did that serve? We need to remember that there are things that CAN make our country safer, that have been ignored because (at least in part) the Democrats suggested them publicly first. We need to work on meaningful international non-proliferation of nuclear materials, re-sign the NTBT to prevent a country from fine-tuning their nascent nuclear capability through trial and error, and work on regaining our position on the world stage, because allies will help us in protecting our country if we earn their goodwill.

    Finally, we need to take a page from the British conservative philosophy. We only have one planet, and our ability to damage it is growing exponentially. Is it worth it to gain a 5-10% profit margin if in fifty, a hundred years we've destroyed those very resources through our irresponsible acts? No, it's not. Many bring up the cost associated with the necessary changes, and historically there is an example of what can be done. When the Clean Air Act passed Congress, automakers were screaming that there was no way they could reduce their emissions to the point now mandated by federal law, that Congress was driving them out of business. Then, they had their engineers sit down and figure out a solution, which they did quickly and (relatively) cheaply, and now every car has a catalytic converter in it. The maintenance of the environment needs to become a priority for us, not a stumbling block.

    If we step back, go back to our basic philosophies, and actually walk the talk, then we CAN be the leaders of a great country again. Or, we can continue to follow Bush's broken legacy, and flounder as a second-rate group of bitter, irritable, and ineffective has-beens.

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