GOP Split Over Fighting Obama's Every Move


Only days after losing the White House and suffering large defeats in both houses of Congress, the Republican Party is striking a posture of defiance.

Within the past 48 hours, the RNC has sent out memos blasting the president elect for appointing Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff and hiring David Axelrod to serve an advisory role.

"Barack Obama's first White House hires are hyper-partisan operatives," read a statement from spokesman Alex Conant. "For a President-elect who promised to change the tone in Washington, it's disappointing that he is filling his White House with partisan bomb-throwers."

Additionally, Republicans have put out a press release drawing attention to the fact that the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had congratulated Obama on his victory -- as if it represented a certain brand of foreign policy acquiescence.

Not everyone within the GOP has shared the fight-them-at-every-corner mentality. Craig Shirley, a conservative consultant, argued that the party needed "to start getting about the task of what they are for," and said of the RNC memos, "You got to pick your fights. It is almost like the RNC is in desperate need of adult supervision."

Both Sen. Lindsey Graham and former White House Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein, meanwhile, have praised Emanuel's appointment. Others, including a group of young Republicans, have begun charting out a path to rebuild the party from within -- an avenue that, noticeably, isn't premised on constantly punching at the Obama administration.

And so, the Republican Party seems to be entering a crossroads: either dedicated to contesting every move made by Democrats over the next few years or working on some issues in bipartisan faith while selling itself on a new set of policy proposals. One political scientist described it as such: "they could be the 'hell no' party, or they can be the 'yes and no' party."

It is easy to see what the former strategy looks like. Grover Norquist, speaking to the Huffington Post the day after the election, noted that there is ground to be gained simply by attacking Democratic overreach.

"Barney Frank is going to be shooting legislation at [Obama], Nancy Pelosi has a backlog of legislation and in her mind she has been waiting for 20 years to push it... the pent up demand to do stuff is going to come out like a machine gun," said Norquist. "The other issue we are going to be for is stopping Obama's tax increases, massive spending program, his takeover of health care... He will create the agenda for the modern right by creating a list of programs that oddly didn't end up in his advertisements."

The "yes and no" strategy, however, is a bit more difficult to define. House Minority Leader John Boehner tried his hand in today's Washington Post by saying the GOP would "pledge to work with President-elect Barack Obama when it is in the best interest of our nation." But from there he struck a tone of defiance: "America is still a center-right country. This election was neither a referendum in favor of the left's approach to key issues nor a mandate for big government."

Conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru took a stab of his own in a column in Friday's New York Times arguing that the GOP had to make a pledge to the middle class instead of positioning itself as strict anti-Democrats.

"The way to court these moderates is not to abandon social conservatism, which would alienate many of the voters Republicans still have. The party needs to "move to the middle" less than it needs to move to the middle class: to go back to representing the interests of voters in the middle of the income spectrum."

But the question is, how much of the party is willing to make the commitment that Ponnuru outlines? Part of the issue, another strategist told the Huffington Post, is that John McCain's campaign only heightened the schisms within the GOP. Those who believe in ideological purity and political combativeness will see the Arizona Republican's failed bid as a justification for their posture. Obama's win, in turn, becomes a failure of tactics as much as philosophy (if he had only used Reverend Wright!).

This, Shirley argues, would be the wrong interpretation -- one that could potentially damage the GOP for years to come.

"There is a third way, that is that neither the 'hell no' side or the 'yes we will work with you' side, would be to offer our own ideas and proposals and legislation and all within a framework of a conservative governing philosophy," he said. "And you see it now in the post campaign fight between the McCain staffers and Palin. It is all reductionism. It is all attack, attack, attack. The campaign is over. They can't go after Obama so they go after Palin. At some point, Republicanism has been defined in many ways as always being against things. We need to be for something."

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