After three straight presidential losses in the 1980s, Democrats charted their way back from the wilderness with the help of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a political startup founded to incubate ideas that mainstream Democrats could identify with, and to expand the Party’s reach in the business community.
Now the Republicans are in the wilderness, having lost two elections back-to-back. A makeover announced after the 2012 election went nowhere, so I asked Al From, who founded the DLC, to imagine how he would construct a similar venture, a Republican Leadership Council, to reinvigorate and restore the GOP as a mainstream party capable of winning the presidency.
It doesn’t have to be exactly like the DLC, he says, but the GOP needs a “power center” to counter the Tea Party extremists in their party. The DLC gave Bill Clinton, an Arkansas governor who wanted to set a different course for his party, an organized power center “so he wouldn’t hang out there alone to die the way Romney did,” says From, adding, “I can’t believe in his heart Romney was for self-deportation of immigrants.”
An RLC would give “power and cover to the candidate who wants to push off the Tea Party,” says From. It would give activists around the country a way to rally. When Clinton ran into trouble in New Hampshire in ’92, he had a core of DLC people who knew him and had worked with him, and who were vested in him. Compare that to Gary Hart, four years earlier, who was out of the race in a week when scandal struck. Clinton took real hits, and the DLC wasn’t the only reason he survived. “He’s unbelievably talented,” says From, “but it sure helped him to have these people backing him.”
Secondly, Republicans need to recognize that ideas are important, and they have to have some ideas that people will support. From quotes Clinton a lot, and he credits Clinton with saying that an intellectual resurgence has to presage political power. “The DLC was a place where you could have a debate about ideas; it wasn’t just one guy trying to do it,” From says. Republicans eyeing 2016 have begun shaping a policy debate—Scott Walker on governing lessons from Wisconsin; Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan on fighting poverty; Chris Christie until he got waylaid by the bridge scandal. They would get more firepower as an “ideas” party if they had a power center.
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