A week into the Obama honeymoon it is debatable who has the bigger headache, the Democrats, who have been celebrating every day like it’s election day, or the Republicans, who have to work out how to rebuild their party. How and how quickly the GOP rebuilds at both the state and federal level will have a profound impact on British politics as the Tories have, to an under-appreciated extent, taken to leaning on the Republicans for policy ideas in recent years.
The headline election numbers were bad enough for the Republicans — Obama 365 electoral college votes, McCain 173 — but the details were even worse. The Republicans saw their vote share drop 12 points among Hispanics — the fastest-growing ethnic group in the US, lost the suburbs to the Democrats, and were beaten among first-time voters 68 to 31 per cent when in 2004 they only trailed by seven points among this group. They failed in Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia, states that had been Republican for 40 years. And at the Congressional level, their last Congressman in New England was defeated. The Republicans are now a rump party.
The Republicans are down the same hole the Tories were in 1997: out of office, out of ideas, their reputation for competence gone and fighting against the best politician of the generation. This bad news for the Republicans is bad news for the Tories too. The British Right has not developed a proper ideas infrastructure in recent years. It has made up for this by borrowing heavily from America. For instance, the Tory social justice agenda was largely inspired by George W. Bush’s Texas governorship. In the 2005 leadership race, David Davis and David Cameron were, in policy terms, running to be the heir to Bush — albeit the inclusive governor not the divisive president — rather than the heir to Blair. Indeed, there are few areas of Tory policy where you cannot see an American influence. Their welfare reform agenda owes much to Wisconsin, their policing reform agenda to Giuliani’s experience in New York, and the success of Mike Bloomberg’s schools policy is an underappreciated element of Tory thinking on education.
Conservatism didn’t lose in 2008, as Republicans abandoned most conservative ideas and Democrats cleverly positioned themselves in the center, not the left. That said, we all know they will move the nation left – either quickly or slowly.
Republicans need not abandon conservative ideas. They need to abandon any so-called “Republican” who can’t or won’t articulate those ideas.