The GOP vs. Itself?

The reelection of President Obama gives the Republican Party a chance to do what it never did in 2008. It is time for reflection, reconciliation, and hopefully rebirth. The many factions under the Big Tent have an opportunity to let reality sink in.

After my 20 years in and out of Washington, D.C., and working coast to coast on behalf of Republicans and conservatives, a few things are more clear than ever. One observation: during former President George W. Bush's tenure many conservatives harbored a resentment towards him, towards the Bush Era establishment, even as they worked for his success. Some eventually grew to like and respect him. Others that I worked with resented the "compassionate conservatism" moniker because of fundamental policy disagreements. They saw nothing "conservative" about him. The resentment grew until 2006, when he was in his second term and the U.S. Congress, led by then-Speaker Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay, got serious about their "conservative" agenda. Since then, conservatives have become the loudest voices on the right.

Without understanding there were (and are) millions of Republicans who believed in President Bush, who agreed with him, who supported his agenda of compassion at home and abroad, conservatives rallied around congressional leadership. (The debate about the Iraq war was largely Left-Right) The seeds of division were sowed, and today we are reaping that harvest. Republicans are not monolithic, any more than women are or any other constituency. Conservatives have wrested control of the external party apparatchik and now they are faced with leading a reconciliation effort. Today, they spend a lot of time critiquing Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor. They somehow missed that their own Republican colleagues chose this leadership. Nothing is ever perfect, and that seems to be the problem.

Conservatives are getting their bite at the apple now.

Independents and those compassionate conservative Bushies should be at the table. Everyone deserves a fair hearing. Few Republicans, whether moderate or conservative, are itching for Karl Rove to be handed another few hundred million dollars. The truth is, it was never Karl Rove who sold George W. Bush to the American people. It was Bush. People liked him even when they disagreed with him vehemently. It's the same reason President Barack Obama is getting a second term. People like him despite very different views on policy. It is one of the most remarkable things about our nation. We survive, even thrive, because our system of government is about sustaining our freedoms through any presidency, any challenge -- internal or external.

I am not a conservative. I am a loyal Republican. I walk my own precinct no matter what campaigns or projects are on my plate. I met Mitt Romney many, many times this year and knowing him was to respect him. He is an impossibly good human being. He might have been a wonderful president. In today's vicious, gossipy, and poisonous political atmosphere it was never going to be easy for Mitt. Cynicism is practically a currency. Good guys have a hard time getting any play when everyone else is dying to be seen as the cynical genius.

Discipline in a campaign is terrific when everyone is on the same page but with so many players looking down the road at their "shot" for 1600 Penn, it is no surprise Romney couldn't energize the conservatives in the way he did many others in the Republican tent. Even a few moderates threw elbows Mitt's way because they want to run. Ambition was the name of the game in 2012.

No matter what angle we view the political prism from, there is always going to be a flaw. We all know what went right, what went wrong, where we could have improved. The fiscal cliff is the precipice on which we all stand. Beyond our borders, there are real policy decisions to be developed and made. As Africa explodes with new violence in Congo and Sudan, as corruption flourishes across Latin America, as China faces the perils of an aging population, and the Middle East boils in brink-of-war negotiations, Republicans have an obligation to unite and lead.

President Obama is navigating alone. The Republicans and conservatives have many brilliant thinkers that together can modernize and unify the party. If competing for campaign and think tank dollars are the only priority, then our destiny is in the political wilderness. The apocalypse isn't nigh, but it is time to stand and fight together. The world still needs us and our work isn't finished.