Four reasons for (a little) GOP optimism

Conservative Republicans are putting on a brave face about Arlen Specter’s departure, and correctly pointing out that the only difference will be that he’ll now be stabbing them in the front, not the back.

But if the rats are leaving, the ship must be sinking.

By Chris Stirewalt
The Examiner

With Specter aboard, congressional Democrats, strangely timid despite their largest majority in 30 years, are feeling emboldened.
Specter has promised to be as feckless a Democrat as he was a Republican. But when alleged comedian Al Franken becomes a senator, the magic number of 60 on procedural votes will give Democrats the kind of control they enjoyed under presidents Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter.

Specter will be able to vote against bills on the floor, but by helping defeat filibusters, will still ensure their passage.
In the weeks ahead, Congress is expected to move swiftly on proposals like giving unions the upper hand in organizing resistant employees, nationalizing health care and extracting hundreds of billions of dollars in global warming fees from companies.

With President Barack Obama cruising at Reaganesque levels of personal popularity, and with a series of punishing legislative defeats on the horizon, Republicans are having a hard time believing that there is anything creative about their destruction.

That will only worsen as Specter’s switch kicks off a new round of infighting as conservative purists and Tory-style accommodationists quarrel over the way out of the wilderness.

But as they endure the rest of a very bad year, here are four small consolations for Republicans:
 
Taxes first

The tea party phenomenon and other moves on the libertarian Right will do nothing to stop the big government landslide in Washington. But they have succeeded in getting the message to Republicans that the energy on the Right is on taxes and spending.

Democratic supermajorities are always vulnerable on taxes. By reinforcing party discipline on this issue, Republicans will be in position to exploit the excesses of the majority.

Battles over social issues will still loom inside the GOP, but gay or straight, pro-Palin or pro-Romney, all conservatives hate tax increases.
 
Blame America

It’s clear that there will be some compromise reached that will allow for at least a limited investigation of Bush-era anti-terrorism practices. As the new Wall Street Journal/NBC News  poll shows, Americans have little stomach for these inquisitions. But Sen. Pat

Leahy, D-Vt., and others believe that the country needs to redeem itself by finding abuses and punishing the perpetrators. The quest could well backfire, reviving the Democrats’ reputation for being weak on defense and terrorism.
 
The rest of the team at the RNC

The verdict is still way out on RNC Chairman Michael Steele. As he talked about taking on Specter, Steele sounded like Hulk Hogan — “Get ready to go to the mat, baby, because we’re coming after you and we’re taking you out.”

But even buttoned-down Republicans are expressing cautious approval for the team taking shape at the party.

Chief of Staff Ken McKay was unknown by most in Washington, coming out of the successful organization of Rhode Island’s Republican governor. But after a month on the job, he looks to be a much-needed steady hand. New Communications Director Trevor Francis is a Bush alum who worked at mega PR firm Burston-Marsteller (home of Mark Penn and now Dana Perino). Francis was mentored by the best practitioners of Bush message discipline and, if allowed to, will keep the rest of the party’s message coherent even when the chairman is threatening electoral smackdowns.
 
Ed Gillespie

The former party chairman and White House counselor opted not to return to the lobbying shop he founded with Jack Quinn and has instead started his own firm.

That means that Gillespie will have a freer hand to help the party — including his just-launched “Resurgent Republic” project that will do polling and message management on key issues.

The GOP has long relied on Gillespie to do the hard work, dating back to his hand in drafting the Contract for America and up to his successful plan for selling the Iraq surge. He is respected for his results and his eschewal of personal glory.

One of Gillespie’s other big projects is winning the governor’s race in Virginia for Republican Bob McDonnell. It may be the party’s best chance for a meaningful victory this year and could augur well for the 2012 elections.

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