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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Republicans continue to struggle to set future course

Published: Sunday, Dec. 16 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

In this Friday, July 27, 2012 file photo, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks at a Republican Party of Arkansas fundraising dinner in Hot Springs, Ark.

Associated Press

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Self-flagellation and second-guessing are still occurring in Republican circles nationally and locally as GOP leaders try to learn lessons and set a future course after failing to meet expectations in the 2012 election. Among the questions being addressed: Nationally, are Republican weaknesses structural, resulting from permanent demographic and societal changes, or are these problems easily remedied?

Pignanelli:"We need to stop being the dumb party. We need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters." — Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal

This Republican display of angst is similar to a reunion of my Irish-Catholic relatives (plenty of guilt, blame, depression — enhanced by high-octane refreshments). Democrats suffered a similar introspection after the 1984 Reagan landslide, which resulted in a new think tank (Democrat Leadership Council) and the eventual election of popular centrist Democrats including Governor Bill Clinton.

Republicans handed Democrats control of the national demography through frequent disparaging invectives toward Latinos, lower income families, students, women and every other slice of the population except white males. Currently, the Republican party is the party of solutions and ideas (there is not a "Democrat Paul Ryan") — but the great thoughts are lost in this thicket of demagoguery against fellow Americans. Indeed, Democratic candidates won across the country not through offering any great policy alternatives but simply because they were not Republicans obsessing about rape, self-deportation, the 47 percent, etc. Therefore, there is an opportunity for Republicans — if they choose not to be stupid.

Webb: The demise of the Grand Old Party is greatly exaggerated. President Barack Obama won by a few percentage points, and Republicans lost a few Senate races mostly because of bad candidates and stupid comments. But that by no means signals a permanent realignment of national political sentiment. Electoral fortunes can turn very quickly. Obama won big in 2008, but his party got smashed in 2010. If he can't turn the economy around, his party will probably lose in 2014 and 2016. Hispanics are not a lost cause. Single women are not a lost cause. Young people might just go Republican once they understand the incredible mess big-spending Democrats are leaving for them. Republicans beat the Democrats in 2012 gubernatorial races and now hold 30 governorships, the most by either party in 12 years. Republicans have a bigger and more exciting bench than the Democrats. Besides, Obama may turn out to be one of the worst presidents in history if he turns the country into Greece by racking up trillion dollar deficits every year of his presidency. Republicans will win again, and win big.

What must Republicans do to win the presidency and control of Congress?

Pignanelli: Many Americans continue to look to Republicans for leadership. The GOP controls the U.S. House and a majority of governors. With this solid base, combined with articulate spokespersons (i.e. Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio), and the "Reaganesque" message of giving all Americans a chance, Republicans have a real shot. However, the decades old alliance between fiscal conservatives and social hardliners must be readjusted to allow for younger libertarians now entering the voter population. If conservatives would just behave like real conservatives (government out of my bank account, my boardroom, and my bedroom), they would dominate American politics.

Webb: The path to victory is straightforward: Nominate great candidates. Don't force them to take right-wing positions that are anathema to mainstream America. Run great campaigns with brilliant messaging and superior ground games. This is important: Communicate inspiringly how conservative policies are more humane, more compassionate, more empowering, more joyful, more innovative and more caring than liberal policies that are driving the middle class into dismal, tedious, structural, welfare dependency. Talk about people, not just numbers and deficits.

Is the GOP in Utah declining or ascending?

Pignanelli: Utah Democrats will decide this question. While there may be nonsensical chest-thumping in the Legislature, rarely do Utah Republicans give the minority party the gift of horrific statements and behavior as with their national colleagues. If local Democrats craft their message and policies with a sensitivity to Utahns traditional angst with the federal government while promoting opportunities for middle income families, 2012 may be the high-water mark for the GOP and everything else is downhill. But if Utah Democrats adopt a tone deafness similar to national Republicans, 2014 could be another tough year.

Webb: The Utah GOP is holding its own, winning where it should win, but not picking up a lot of ground, especially in Salt Lake County. To maintain its dominance, Republicans can't allow the far right to regain control of the party apparatus, particularly the nominating process. The winning formula is to nominate mainstream, conservative, problem-solvers, not right-wing ideologues. After its 2010 tea party flirtation, Utah is back where it has been historically — a mainstream, center-right state that conscientiously balances its budgets while responsibly meeting citizen needs. That's a formula for continued success.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: frankp@xmission.com.

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