The GOP: Not A National Party?

At the Senate GOP leadership’s press conference on Tuesday, after Sen. Arlen Specter switched from the Republicans to the Democrats, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) made a very interesting statement in his capacity as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee:

“I will tell you that in 2010 we are working very hard to make sure that we have the kind of candidates across the country on a national scale,” said Cornyn, “that will allow the Republican Party to regain our status as a national party, and run competitive races in blue states, and purple states, and in red states.”

So was Cornyn saying that the GOP is not right now a national party? I asked NRSC press secretary Amber Wilkerson for comment, and she pointed me in the direction of something Cornyn said at CPAC earlier this year, about the need to be a big tent that can appeal to voters across the country.Here’s the relevant portion of Cornyn’s remarks:

Now, not all of these candidates are going to be as conservative as I am on each and every issue, it’s critical that we get candidates that will fit their states and who can get elected.

But I don’t think there’s any contradiction between being principled and pragmatic. As I said, I’m one of — I’m proud to be the fourth most conservative Republican in the United States Senate. Back in Texas, we call that mainstream.

But I have to tell you, I would rather have a Republican who votes with me 80 percent of the time than a liberal Democrat who will vote with me zero percent of the time. You can sign me up on each and every occasion to support that Republican for election and to oppose that Democrat.

Now I understand that, occasionally, we get frustrated by the way some of my colleagues vote — I do to. But a circular firing squad is no solution to the problems our party finds itself to in right now.

So to be a national party we have to put blue and purple states into play. We must be a national party and we must run candidates that can win in every region of the country.

Cornyn’s message on what it means to be a national party here seems pretty clear. He was telling this crowd of right-wing activists that the party can’t be too ideologically exclusive, and part of politics is to build a broad enough coalition to win.

I spoke to Prof. Larry Sabato about Cornyn’s remarks on Tuesday. “Look, this is the guy that tried to get Toomey to recognize reality and jump out of the primary in Pennsylvania,” said Sabato. “And Cornyn is as conservative as you can find. So Cornyn gets it, and his leadership gets it. But they’re afraid of their own base. They’re afraid of losing nominations and primaries and conventions, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Sabato said that technically the GOP is still a national party — but this is simply because the legal structures in this country have institutionalized the two-party system. “The legal system, or the legal structure, can’t make a party competitive,” said Sabato. “Only a party can make itself competitive. And right now the Republicans don’t have the will to do it. You know, some part of the Republican Party doesn’t get it at all. Another part gets it, but is afraid to do anything. And a small portion gets it and wants to do something, but doesn’t have the support to enact the changes needed.”

So can it be said that the GOP is no longer a true national party? “I would put it this way: They’re doing a very poor imitation of a national party,” said Sabato. “That’s how I would put it. In two elections, they have proven to be essentially a regional party with isolated geographic support in three places: The south, rural Midwestern states, and part of the Rocky Mountain states.”