Can the GOP pull itself back from the Edge?

Loosing an election hurts.  For the GOP the pain must be particularly intense given their belief that Mitt Romney would not only win but would provide the long coattails needed to move the GOP into positions of power in the national and state legislatures.  Needless to say this did not happen.  Is this because the GOP has lost touch with the American people (as the Democrats say) or because they did not effectively communicate their message because of a weak candidates and a biased media (as many conservative leader say)?  To his credit, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus would like to find out.  To that end he is asking anyone and everyone to tell the party what they think the GOP should do next.

They have a committee, a website, and a survey

Who decides what a party stands for?  Should the party leaders decide and so allow the fortunes of the party to rise and fall based on their ability to attract members and votes?  Are not these the people who know best?  (BTW, who are the leaders and how did they get to be in these positions?)  Or should the average citizens who identify with the party decide?  Would that not be the democratic way?  These are complicated questions that strike at the heart of what a political party is.  The historical pattern has been to rely on a relatively small band of leaders who hold strong beliefs and were willing to push their party in a particular direction no matter what.  This is a model that served the Republicans (and dare we say the country) well through the mid 19th Century.  But this may be a function of the technology and culture of the times as much as anything else.  After all these were the days before telephones and television.  Even the telegraph had barely made an impact yet.

In the Post-War period the Republicans were again in the forefront of party policy formation with their reliance on what have come to be known as think tanks.  Put a bunch of academics and ideologues in a room, let them argue about the issues and then see what comes out.  The genius of this system has been two fold.  First, these institutes were not only cheap, they could be self-supporting via corporate donations (donations that were often made by the very corporations that had a vested self-interest in the policies being formed).  Second, and more importantly, they saw public outreach not as an option, but as a fundamental aspect of their mission.  This resulted in a simple and effective formula, through public talks and the media the members of the think tanks influenced the party’s faithful members who then voted accordingly in primary elections, the winning candidates influenced the general electorate who then (hopefully) elected appropriate candidates.  Everything worked well, perhaps to well.  Eventually all the Republican candidates seemed the same, the same ideas, the same policies, often even using the same talking points to explain themselves.  This is a strategy that can lead to overwhelming success (as in the Contract for America) or failure.

Mr. Priebus would like to explore a new option, one perhaps better suited for the 21st Century.  Will the rank and file pay attention?  Will the leadership take heed?   Only time will tell.  Though one thing is for sure, the Republicans don’t want to loose again.