Michael Steele: Opportunity Lost?

I was asked recently what lesson should the GOP have learned from the results of the 2012 presidential election. That’s easy: You can’t please everyone, but you sure can tick them all off at the same time!

Voters were not in the mood for petty political bickering or platitudes about “hope.” And they certainly weren’t in the mood for a conversation about “vaginal probes” or contraception. In fact, as the campaign dragged on they grew increasingly more skeptical of so called “political solutions” and even more negative about the direction the country was taking despite slight upticks in GDP and decreases in the unemployment rate. The most disturbing fact: more Americans now think their children will be worse off than they are.

These factors, among others, were intricate parts of a national debate that did not happen. Keep in mind, the stakes were already high due to the unceasing drag on the economy, the end of the Bush tax cuts, increasing tax rates vs. cutting tax loopholes. Consequently, the election results serve as an important lesson for both parties: for Democrats it’s time to stop blaming Bush and lead; and for Republicans it’s time for a reality check.

As I noted throughout the campaign, an overwhelming majority of voters sought answers and progress on the challenges we face, but Republicans found themselves preoccupied with amassing goo-gobs of cash instead and missed an important opportunity to use that cash to build on the successes of 2010 by communicating a message that was not bound by party lines. (To paraphrase my MSNBC colleague Chuck Todd after the election: “Republicans spent most of their time talking to themselves.”)

Consequently, voters were otherwise offered unprincipled drivel about nothing of much importance — that is, when we weren’t alienating African-Americans, Hispanics and anyone else who happened to get in the way of our talking to ourselves.

In my travels on behalf of federal, state and local candidates 2010, I saw a new generation of Republican leaders emerge who were serious about fiscal stewardship and who respected the opinions of those with whom they may not always agree. For example, then-candidates like New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Congressman Tim Scott of South Carolina; or Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bob McDonnell of Virginia reflected the communities they came from and spoke with clarity on the issues that mattered in the everyday lives of individuals and families.

They knew and expressed with authenticity that there is no magic formula, secret potion or handshake that will make the GOP more attractive to voters. It would require work. Honest, hard, often frustrating but always important work! And they were ready to do the hard work required of true leaders and they won — from New Mexico to South Carolina; New Jersey to Virginia — with a message that never compromised our principles but did demonstrate the true breath of the GOP’s tent and our commitment to strong families, a strong economy and a safe and secure community in which to live.

The Republican leadership forgot that and got spanked.

While the postmortems continue, the Grand Old Party must once again become the Party of Lincoln — The Grand Opportunity­­ Party. The top-down puppet management of the Republican National Committee must recognize our strength does not rest in their special interests but rather in the interests of our grassroots; that it’s finally time to give way to those “Hip Hop” Republicans I talked about in 2009. And no, I’m not talking about (as I wasn’t then) dressing Sen. Mitch McConnell in some bling and a Pelle Pelle Throwback leather jacket. Rather, I’m talking about creating a state of mind within the GOP more reflective of America’s exciting and vibrant culture, as diverse as it is bold.

It’s time for the GOP to stop doing crazy and allow those leaders who understand it will take a new consensus between right and left, conservative and liberal to create a legacy of ownership in one’s business, one’s home and one’s community so necessary to secure the future of this nation; and that only individuals can create that legacy of ownership, not government.

As the battles of 2012 fade into distant memory and new struggles and opportunities rise before us, the American people will want to know which Republican Party will rise to lead: the party they rejected in November 2012 or the Party of Lincoln. One they will simply ignore; the other they will join in meeting the challenges that lie ahead.

(Cross-posted, with permission of the author, from BET.com)

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