“I think that we’re at a low ebb,” the San Antonio Republican declares.
After eight years of the Bush presidency and the worst economic slump since the Great Depression, only 22 percent of Americans call themselves Republicans, according to a survey released Thursday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
But while there’s not much debate about the GOP’s current state, there’s plenty of debate about its best path back to power.
The Texas model, embodied by Gov. Rick Perry and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, stresses conservative ideology and strives to present clear philosophical contrasts to Democrats .
The Florida model, embodied by former Gov. Jeb Bush, current Gov. Charlie Crist and retiring Sen. Mel Martinez, believes in outreach to moderates, independents and minorities, and moderation in tone if not always in substance.The state party platforms reflect the divergent priorities. The 2008 Texas GOP platform sought to abolish the IRS, repeal the minimum wage, end the corporate income tax, mandate “American English” as the nation’s official language, evict the United Nations from U.S. soil and “dispel the myth” of a constitutional separation of church and state.
In contrast, the Florida GOP platform opened with a pledge “always (to) be receptive to new ideas with an outlook broad enough to accommodate thoughtful change and varying points of view.”
GOP pollster David Winston says the different approaches reflect the differing politics of the two states.
“A majority coalition in Florida and a majority coalition in Texas happen to be very different models,” he said. “The challenge for the Republican Party is to pull those coalitions together at a national level.”
The Texas and Florida models will be tested next year as Perry faces a potential challenge from a moderate conservative, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Crist faces a potential Senate primary challenge from a conservative former Florida House speaker, Marco Rubio.
The key to victory
In some ways, the two divergent models reflect the demographic differences of the states. Two-thirds of Floridians were born elsewhere — a far higher percentage than in Texas — and a significant percentage of the Republican vote is Hispanic.
Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak, a former aide to Hutchison, said concentrating on the base while ignoring the center “is a recipe for permanent minority status.”
University of Houston political scientist Jim Granato argues that moderation is not always the road to victory.
The key to an ideological candidate winning, Granato explains, is the right combination of charismatic leader (such as conservative Ronald Reagan or liberal Barack Obama) and political volatility.
“It appears that it takes a special set of short-term domestic or foreign circumstances to give more ideological candidates an opening,” he said. “Obama had the war and the recession, and Reagan had stagflation and the cold war.”