Where now, Grand Old Party?

The divided Republican Party failed to mount much of a get-out-the-vote campaign this fall. Here in the battleground state of Nevada, National Republican forces, wary of a state party whose largest county organization (Clark) was dominated by a disgruntled Ron Paul insurgency, did an end run around the state GOP apparatus (such as it is), pouring in money to support Mitt Romney’s candidacy here through their independent “Team Nevada.”

That effort failed. TV buys were not enough.

Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller did manage to hold onto his Senate seat, narrowly defeating a Congresswoman Shelley Berkley weighed down by a House ethics probe. Voters also returned Nevada’s two Republican Congressmen, Joe Heck and Mark Amodei.

The temptation now is to urge all Republicans to kiss and make up — to slap a Band-Aid on the old wounds and get busy raising money for 2014 and 2016.

But — at the risk of stretching the metaphor — papering over a deep and fundamental wound rather than cleaning it out, no matter how loud the “ouch!”, is hardly a sound basis for future health.

The more libertarian, Ron Paul wing of the party makes some good points. They ask what good it does to close ranks behind candidates who may be fine men in their own right, but who fail to engage, fail to inspire, who dodder along the campaign trail, too “gentlemanly” to give crony state-socialism the evisceration it richly deserves, reading canned scripts as though punch-drunk — Dole, McCain, perhaps even Mitt Romney.

Mr. Romney, after all, signed into law a state version of ObamaCare while he was governor of Massachusetts. This hardly gave him much of a podium from which to decry “a vastly expensive government takeover of the health care industry, which will bankrupt the nation even as it delivers inferior, rationed care, just as it did in the Soviet Union.”

And so he didn’t, and the election was decided, apparently, on whether Republicans would hand out free birth control pills.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul, 77, is retiring from the national scene after one presidential campaign — in 1988, on the Libertarian ticket. But his followers, ridiculed and stymied in their early efforts to be heard in the GOP’s councils, did their homework, learned the rules, and gained control here in Las Vegas, as elsewhere, only to be denied even the symbolic satisfaction of nominating Rep. Paul from the floor at the Tampa convention and hearing him make a speech before his inevitable concession to Mitt Romney, 90 days ago.

What did the Republican Party gain by telling those fervent, mostly younger, small-government activists to get lost?

The Republican Party needs new blood, and a new way to cast their “less government-more freedom” message to appeal to younger voters. That message stares them in the face.

The Ron Paul contingent points out the fruitlessness of electing people who happen to have “R”s after their names but who deliver little more than “Democrat Lite,” continuing to embrace bigger spending, bigger deficits, more intrusive regulations that invade our personal privacy and make it hard to develop America’s plentiful energy resources, who go along with job-crippling regulations at home and vastly expensive, fruitless wars overseas, who cast a blind eye on the inflationary policies of the money-printers and the fact that the latest guy from Goldman Sachs always seems to end up running our economic policy (of the bankers, by the bankers, for the bankers), no matter who’s elected president.

Many want to wind down the counterproductive War on Drugs — an issue of tomorrow, not of yesterday.

Why, for that matter, many of the Paulistas would even repeal a sizeable number of our 20,000 onerous, overlapping, pointless (and blatantly unconstitutional) “gun control” laws!

Given a choice between actual, strident Democrats and a hesitant, apologetic “Democrat Lite,” they warn, voters will usually choose the real thing.

But that’s not the message voters hear when the Republican Party fields the likes of Senate candidates Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana, with their weird and antedeluvian statements about rape and abortion, custom-designed to repel (if not outright terrify) young urban women. And those were the “safe, traditional” social conservatives, mind you, not wild-eyed Paulistas.

The money is here. Right here in my home state of Nevada, Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson contributed about $70 million to GOP coffers in 2012. Wynn Resorts Ltd. Chairman Steve Wynn is another multimillion-dollar donor.

The current struggle is over who will control that cash-flow. But a party that can’t explain its principles clearly — and then field candidates committed more to those smaller-government principles than merely to “raising enough money to get myself re-elected” — may discover such spigots don’t stay open forever.

A re-rooted GOP needs a single, central message, and it’s not “Show us the money.” It needs to set a goal that involves transforming government, and thus transforming America, away from the suffocating blanket of statism, back to a land where government funds the courts and keeps the sea lanes safe and otherwise mostly leaves us alone, a land where hard work, risk-taking and entrepreneurship are cherished, celebrated, and allowed to reap the rewards bestowed by a free market — not reviled, condemned, and penalized.

From there, re-building local organizations can proceed on a sound footing.

Who will lead? I don’t really care. Whether it’s Jeb Bush or Rand Paul, someone needs to sit down with these disparate elements, including the Ron Paul supporters — separately, at first, and then together — not to assign blame, but to identify common ground, hammering out a clear, principled platform and a course for the future.

That — not by paying some ad agency to cook up a fancy slogan — is how you get yourself a “message.”

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