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GOP's future: Political ostriches?

After looking at the vote totals and the exit polls, political analyst Charlie Cook fires off this warning to Republicans in his latest National Journal column: "Those who write off the 2008 election by saying that Republican candidates weren't conservative enough are in denial. They are political ostriches, refusing to acknowledge that the country and the electorate are changing and that old recipes don't work any more. Obama's message and agenda were a far cry from those of the Democratic Party of a generation or two ago, but the Republican Party's message and agenda haven't changed much other than becoming even more fixated on cultural issues and tax cuts. A top Republican pollster remarked privately to me after the election that he couldn't think of a single new idea generated on the Republican side during the 2008 campaign."

"The dialogue about what the Republican Party is and where it should go will be driven over the next couple of years not by Republican members of Congress or governors or the party apparatus, but by the GOP's presidential contenders for 2012, who will be fanning out across the country before the month is over. The question is whether the party's leaders and members will be listening. Will they be open to new approaches to dealing with a dramatically changed country? Or will they simply say, 'Back to the Future'?"

The Boston Globe: "With Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska in their midst, the nation's leading Republican governors used their annual conference to unleash some of their most furious criticism yet about the failed campaign she waged alongside presidential nominee John McCain. … Palin's colleagues rarely mentioned her by name, as the defeated vice presidential nominee swept through the conference, making a triumphal jaunt richer in nostalgia for her brief campaign than in prescriptions for a Republican rebound." More: "Palin's presence overshadowed the three-day conclave of elected executives that traditionally serves as a celebration of state-level policy successes, a partywide strategy session, and an audition for national candidates. It was at such a meeting in early 2008 that the Alaska governor first received McCain's attention, but her colleagues this week appeared at times miffed that even from under the wreckage, Palin's luster remained visible."

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is the host of the RGA meeting, not Sarah Palin, we swear. "Crist's centrist message, though, might appeal more to independents and Democrats than some Republicans, especially in light of quiet grumbling that's spread through conservative ranks over whether he did enough to help the presidential ticket carry a crucial swing state. 'We just need to be inclusive, we need to reach out, and do a better job leading by approaching issues with a common-sense view," Crist told the (Fort Lauderdale) Sun Sentinel in an interview Wednesday.'"

More: "Still, Crist has a clear vision for a new GOP national strategy, one that pushes divisive social causes to the side and embraces diversity. The party needs to do a better job reaching out to black and Hispanic voters, Crist said. He noted the Republican rhetoric on illegal immigration was 'less than friendly, shall we say' -- an assessment that hardly will endear Crist to the party's right wing."

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele has become the second announced candidate for RNC chair, writes the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. "'After two devastating election cycles, the party has reached a crossroads,' said Steele comparing the Republican Party to someone who has 'hunkered down' in a corner with no idea what to do next. 'I think I may have some keys to open the door, some juice to turn on the lights,' Steele explained."

NBC's Chris Donovan reminds us of Steele's appearance in the "Meet the Press" 2006 Senate debate series. "Couple things of note that were discussed re his being a Republican were his earlier comments that his 'R' for Republican was a scarlet letter; that the Washington Post pointed out that he didn't have the word 'Republican' on his campaign Web site; that his official bio omitted the fact he was formerly the Maryland GOP chair; and we even used a bumper sticker that Steele's campaign put out that said STEELE DEMOCRAT in such a way that made it look like he WAS a Democrat -- and Steele admitted that he wasn't aware that they had similar ones that said Steele Republican."

One interesting portion of the transcript:

MR. RUSSERT: You said, you said the R is a scarlet letter and that if this is a choice between Democrats and Republicans, you lose.
LT. GOV. STEELE: Absolutely, Tim. Absolutely, absolutely. And that's exactly what Ben Cardin wants this race to be about. That's exactly what the Democrats want this race to be about. Because when this race is about Democrats and Republicans in a state like Maryland, which is two to one, all they have to say is "The boogeyman's Republican and all you guys remember, you've got to vote for us D's." What I've tried to do is break through that noise and say I represent something different. I represent, represent, I think, a different challenge for my state and for my country.
MR. RUSSERT: But you will organize with the Republicans if you won. You would vote for a Republican majority leader?
LT. GOV. STEELE: Yeah, yeah, I guess, yeah. That would make sense, wouldn't it?
MR. RUSSERT: And would you--and would you be...
LT. GOV. STEELE: I wouldn't vote for Ben.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you be a reliable vote for President Bush?
LT. GOV. STEELE: I would be a reliable vote for the people of Maryland because, at the end of the day, I'm going to evaluate every issue as it comes to me and where my party is wrong, I'm not standing with it, I'm not voting with it. And I've been clear on that. I've disagreed with my party on the minimum wage. I've called for an increase with the minimum wage. I disagreed with my party on No Child Left Behind.