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Now what? If the top-down strategy looks increasingly hard to pull off in so Democratic a state, so also building from below, retaking the party from the angry activists, looks even more daunting. And do the Republicans have any likely leaders who could recast the party and possibly run in 2016? Cellular executive John Stanton, Microsoft’s Brad Smith, former U.S. Attorney John McKay (or a second try for McKenna) come to mind as strong candidates, but unlikely to run. There are rising stars in the legislature, reflecting suburban centrism.
Long-term, the state is probably not going to stay deep blue, as the old union-based industries such as Boeing diminish in proportion to a research-based economy. The long Democratic rule, extending back to 1976, is likely to produce weariness, if not scandals, from so long a period without a worthy opposition party. But short-term, the GOP in this state will have to content itself with minority-party status.
A single-party state breeds flaccid politics. It also produces a power vacuum to be filled by other means. One possible scenario would be elbowing aside a rookie governor with strong legislative leadership, particularly with Seattle Democrat Ed Murray as new Senate majority leader.
Or, we could become a two-party state with each party being a faction of the Democratic Party — the status-quo party led by Chopp versus the reform Democrats led by figures such as Rep. Ross Hunter of Medina and King County Executive Dow Constantine. The reform Democrats in the Senate will have their hand strengthened by the few road-kill Democrats who can threaten to switch over to Republicans on key votes. It's also conceivable that Gov. Inslee will decide to throw in with the moderate wing, bowing to the new politics of austerity.
Then there is the possibility of real change by the national Republican Party. If it manages to reinvent itself as a modernized conservative party, that could revive the local Republicans and change the dreadful national brand of the GOP into something more compelling.
This election really does seem to be focusing the mind of the national party. Some of the adjustments are a kind of pandering, particularly to women and Hispanic voters. Others are technical, such as imitating the Obama team’s mastery of micro-targeting voters to stimulate turnout. Some are consolation prizes: hold onto the House of Representatives and governorships enough to be slightly relevant; use the filibuster or defecting road-kill Democrats to leverage minority power and appeal to voters who want to hedge their bets against free-spending Democrats.
Other approaches are more philosophical and appealing, and could bust out of the permanent-opposition fate. One is to devise programs that attract urban voters, particularly the aspiring classes, ending the era of anti-urban politics by the GOP. Another is taking away unneeded tax breaks and subsidies from the wealthy and the politically well-connected, such as Romney’s suggestion of a hard cap on deductions.
For Republicans, this past election was one last roll of the dice, against poor odds, to see if backlash against Obama could give a fading white and elderly majority one final ticket to the White House. The Republicans feared extinction, with Obamacare producing millions of new grateful voters and immigration reform providing more Democratic voters and recruits to revive the union movement. But rather than change and adapt, the GOP tried to go back to a drying-up well one more time. They should have known it takes more than that to defeat an incumbent president.
As conservative commenters such as Bret Stephens have been saying, in losing the White House, the GOP “dodged a bullet because a Romney victory would have obscured deeper trends in American politics the GOP must take into account. A Romney administration would also have been politically cautious and ideologically defensive in a way that rarely serves the party well. Finally, the GOP dodged ownership of the second great recession.”
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