The Party of Palin?

by Marion Maneker

As the papers dissect where and how McCain lost the Presidency and focus on Rahm Emmanuel and who will be next announced as part of the Obama team, the Republicans have a lot of soul searching to do. The question is whether the Republican party can overcome the twin blows of botching the bailout vote and losing the presidential campaign.

The WSJ looked at the party in the aftermath today and what they saw isn’t pretty.

“Complicating the coming fight is a widening gap between the party’s grass-roots activists and its intellectual elite. Gov. Palin sits squarely in the center of the debate. Embraced by many social conservatives in the party’s base, she was dismissed by some party leaders, including some former government officials who endorsed Democrat Barack Obama. Activists see her as the party’s future, others as a novice whose at-times shaky performance has doomed her prospects — a split reflected in polls that showed her popularity dropping during the general election, but her supporters’ enthusiasm high.

“She’s a star among conservatives, but the crucial independent voter has a different perspective, and the lesson for the GOP…is if you lose the center, you lose America,” said pollster Frank Luntz, who blamed Republican losses in 2006 and 2008 on a failure to appeal to independents.

“The Sarah Palin phenomenon is not going to disappear,” said Tim Morgan, deputy managing editor of the evangelical magazine Christianity Today. Gov. Palin has the potential, he said, to build a movement on issues including increased domestic energy production and a tough line on illegal immigration.

Gov. Palin also won support from some party die-hards, even as others, such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell, distanced themselves from her. “She has energized our base like I’ve never seen,” Ohio Sen. George Voinovich said at a Monday rally in Lakewood, Ohio, where he introduced the Republican vice-presidential nominee.”

The problem isn’t Palin as much as what she represents: the rural underclass that is resentful and isolated from economic opportunity. If the Republican party remains captive to that group, it too will be increasingly isolated and bereft of the kind of ideas that animated the conservative revolution. If Obama is smart and continues to seize the center by confounding expectations, the Republicans could become like the UK’s Conservative party, a leaderless afterthought.

The Journal points out that the future of the party now lies in Congress where a new look is unlikely to emerge: “In the party’s immediate future is a battle for leadership in a shrunken Capitol Hill caucus, which has grown more conservative as it has grown smaller.”

And many in the party know it: “We’ve lost our credibility,” said Scott Klug, a former Republican congressman from Wisconsin who said he fears the party is entering a long period of retrenchment. “We’re just going to be in the wilderness for a while.”

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