What next for the Republicans?


The smart money says November is not going to be much fun for the US Republican. The Democrats are going to do very well in the House and Senate elections, and in the last month or so Barack Obama has assumed a commanding – and probably decisive – lead in the presidential polls.

Most of the blame can be laid at the feet of the Bush presidency. On domestic policy, ambitious plans to reform social security and immigration failed abysmally, while Bush's allegedly conservative administration nationalized public education (No Child Left Behind), created a massive new entitlement programme (the prescription drug benefit), and became the biggest-spending government since LBJ's 'Great Society'. And as for foreign policy...

However, you can't blame Bush for everything. John McCain must take some responsibility too. At its best, his campaign has been lacklustre. At its worst, it has been downright nasty and cynical.

Perhaps though, spending some time out of power might be the best thing for the Republicans. Like most political movements that have spent too long with their snouts in the government trough, they have lost sight of what they stand for and what their purpose is. Until they recover their political raison d'etre, no amount of clever campaign strategy is likely to help them.

What kind of party will emerge from such a period of reflection? At this point, it's hard to predict. Given the decentralized nature of US politics, various brands of conservatism will be trialled in the various states before, eventually, a coherent new message is developed at the national level. That may be some years away.

That said, there are a number of obvious possibilities. The Republicans could shift in an even more populist, big government direction, moving to the left on economic issues and to the right on social 'wedge' issues. Or they might move to the centre, adopting something akin to David Cameron's 'liberal conservatism'. They could even go back to their roots and become a party of limited government, individual freedom and personal responsibility.

Time will tell.