Republican governors - a mere 17 of them in the wake of the Nov. 4 elections - gathered in Florida to talk, among other things, about the party's future. Skirmishes along old internecine lines immediate broke out between those who say the party should regroup based on conservative principles and those who see political elixir in a "big tent" approach that never seems quite big enough to accommodate conservatives. Ronald Reagan's name naturally was invoked by many.
The hard electoral truth is that the Republican Party, through its own actions and inactions, is no longer competitive in the urban areas of the West Coast and New England, and it's in serious trouble in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes region. During the late 1990s and into the Bush years, the GOP became a spending party, and even serious tax reform went by the wayside. The Bush tax cuts were indisputably positive for the economy, but they were modest - and the GOP hasn't brought forth a serious tax reform or tax cut legislative package since 2003.
Meanwhile, much of the foreign policy apparatus drifted, particularly in regard to the rogue nuclear threats posed by Iran, Syria and North Korea, toward which the Bush administration engaged in the cardinal sin of appeasement. The party of individual liberty, pro-growth economics, spending restraint and clear-eyed foreign policy abandoned its natural strengths.
The "big tent" vs. Reagan conservatism argument is not without merit, but it is lost on most voters. No one under the age of 42 had the opportunity to vote for Ronald Reagan, and most voters under the age of 45 have little political memory of him and his style of leadership.
And lest too much hero worship overcome old Reaganites, they would do well to remember that they had their share of beefs with the greatest post-war president. Yes, the party would do well to return to its principles and apply them dynamically to today's facts. Yes, the party would do well to sell itself and its principles among newer voter groups, especially the large immigrant populations in the West and Northeast.
But Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, derided in the media as a nitwit, actually came closest to the describing the blend of what the GOP needs to do to save itself: Demonstrate competence and innovation by bringing reforms in the states built on principles of liberty and free markets, stop spending in a manner that would shame drunken sailors, respect American traditions and let future elections take care of themselves.