Those are all important things, and areas where the GOP has to improve if it is to win again. But even as that work goes on, basic questions about where Republicans stand — or should stand — will go unanswered. For example: Did Republicans in the last election effectively address the deep concerns of millions of Americans who fear for their jobs and have seen their standard of living decline over many years? Was the GOP correct to press for lower taxes on the nation’s top earners all the way to the bitter end? What about the war in Afghanistan? Social issues?
Don’t look for answers, or even suggestions of answers, from the Growth and Opportunity Project. It will be dealing with more doable things. At one point, I asked the group about the Democratic Party’s self-examination that took place after its 1988 trouncing, which of course followed an even bigger trouncing in 1984 and a painful loss in 1980. Democrats had to face the reality that they had much more than a communications problem, that they were soft on crime, soft on defense, too liberal on social issues — in general, that they were out of sync with the American people. Fleischer and others pointed out that the Democratic Party didn’t exactly pull itself out of that hole; instead, a new leader, Bill Clinton, guided them to victory. “It was really a unique candidate in 1992 who changed that for the Democratic Party,” Fleischer said. “It was not the party itself that made those changes — it was an individual candidate.”
Fleischer’s point, which was shared by many other Republicans at the meeting, was this: There are a lot of things the GOP can work on, but in the biggest sense, they’re waiting for the right candidate to come along and fix the problem.