- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2008

So … the GOP congressional majority in 1994 disappeared, the “permanent party realignment” didn’t materialize. Democrats control Washington … despair!

It is as though there’s been a death in the GOP family. The loss of congressional control in 2006 was like stage one of grief: shock and denial. During the past two years, it’s been “pain and guilt” and, as psychologists say, the “chaotic and scary phase.”

After the 2008 election, Republicans have moved into stage three: “anger and bargainingwhere, according to experts, “frustration gives way to anger … and survivors lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else.”

Some McCain operatives unfairly blame Gov. Sarah Palin. Most blame the Bush administration. And always a favorite, the MSM (mainstream media). So many scapegoats to choose from!

Here’s a thought: Maybe no one is to blame. Frank Delaney’s fictional professor in “Ireland: A Novel” lectured students: “When politicians and those who observe them consider matters, they frequently fall into the trap of assuming … that a status quo may last forever. They forget what changes things - events. That’s what all politics are changed by - events.”

It was indeed events that changed America’s politics … but more importantly, it was the GOP responses to those events that gave way to Democratic successes. During the past eight years, there was nevera principled conservative response to anyof the seminal events that occurred. Never. Not after Enron (remember Sarbanes-Oxley?), not after 9/11 (the largest new federal agency since World War II), not after Hurricane Katrina (President Bush in Jackson Square: “We’re going to rebuild New Orleans no matter what it costs.”) and certainly not after the financial crisis in September of 2008 and the $700 billion federal “bailout.”

There will always be events. “First responders” are not only firemen and policemen - they are also leaders and policymakers, who are judged by constituents on their responses to a crisis. When Republican officeholders respond to emergencies in identical ways as their Democratic and liberal counterparts, we shouldn’t be surprised if the lines between the two philosophies blur in the public mind.

Principled conservatives have to be willing to think outside the mainstream media box in a time of crisis and confusion.And it is always going to be harder for conservatives because the media clamor will always be for big government solutions to whatever the crisis du jour happens to be.

And if that is the case, what can Republicans do?

Republicans love to talk about Ronald Reagan. They just don’t act like Mr. Reagan, except in theory. What does that mean? Don’t be sissies. Be willing to take the hard political hits. Mr. Reagan drank sure political poison in 1981 by firing the air traffic controllers when they went on strike and by knowingly allowing the nation to sink into recession in 1981 and 1982 in order to build a base for future economic prosperity. Mr. Reagan was willing to take hardpolitical hits from the MSM for the long-term good of the country … and conservative principles. Republicans must get a stomach for the hard stuff or stop longing for the good outcomes Mr. Reagan produced. They must be willing to do what he did when eventspresent themselves and to apply conservative principles even when it is hard and angers nearly everyone.

In his speeches, Mr. Reagan articulated a philosophy or principle and then followed that with an anecdote about someone he’d met or an explanation about how a particular proposal or policy or principle would really work. He translated policy into everyday life. Like President-elect Barack Obama does. Learnfrom that. Stop talking in white papers. Practice on health care. It is complicated, but Republicans mustbe able to explainwhy consumer choice in health care is better for peoplethan the big government solutions coming their way from the Democrats.

In 1961, Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, Maine Republican, gave this advice to aspiring politicians: “Take care of the home folks. Listen more than you talk. Work, work, work.” Some defeated GOP members of Congress didn’t go home, didn’t campaign early, didn’t run for their lives. Others from Democratic districts survived the Democrats’ tsunami because they took care of the home folks, listened more than they talked and they worked, worked, worked.

Bottom line: We need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves. Disband the circular firing squad, focus on principles and adhere to them even when it is unpopular. Republicans must devote themselves to explaining clearly to the American people what we mean by what we say we believe. We need to stop looking for allies to blame and quickly get on to the next and final phases of grief, the “upward turn” and “reconstruction and working through.”

And remember: No one really died. We lost the election. And the 2010 election cycle started last Wednesday.

Cleta Mitchell is a political law attorney representing conservative issue groups and Republicans.

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