In the months ahead, think tanks will convene to discuss the future of the GOP. Boring, and futile.
Some will argue that the Republican Party needs to move to the center. They have a point, as many economic conservatives are hungry for a candidate who treads lightly on social issues, and knows how to win office without waging culture war.
Others will argue that the GOP should return to the right's roots. They might argue that a more staunchly conservative Republican than Sen. John McCain, for example, would have challenged Barack Obama for saying during the campaign that it was "above my pay grade" to opine when life begins.
They, too, have a point (although it has been my experience that the purists who whine about Bush and McCain not being "conservative enough" are the least reliable Republicans when it comes to voting day, and thus make themselves expendable.)
In the end, the confabs don't matter. Voters across the country will elect candidates whose message works for them.
Now Democrat Obama is president-elect. How will the Republican Party navigate through the next four years? It still is not clear how post-partisan Obama will be. As a Clinton Democrat told me the other day, Team Obama was not particularly gracious with Clintonia during the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Then again, Obama waged a disciplined, intelligent campaign - and he may see it in his interest to move to the middle to get things done.
Whether he does, or stays in the left wings, Republicans are going to have to work with him. That's why voters send elected officials to Washington. If GOP leaders appear as if they simply want to sabotage Obama's success - which means America's success - voters once again will see GOP leaders as brats busting up all the toys in the box. Now is the time for GOP leaders to appear as calm and collected as Obama himself. With the economic problems ahead, professionalism will carry the day farther than righteous indignation.
There is one thing the right side of the right wing needs to understand: Personal attacks against Obama have not worked and will not work. Discard them. They only chase away voters who agree with Republicans on national security and economic issues.
Ever notice how neither the Bush-haters' nor the Clinton-haters' thirst was ever sated? Vendettas know no end.
I have to think that a number of Republicans have seen the excesses of Bush-hating and Clinton-hating, and they want the GOP to respond, not with more anger and ego, but with more principle and ideas. They don't want to be in a party of angry losers. They want to be in a party that stands for something better - smaller (but more effective) government, unwavering commitment to national security - instead of payback. They want to feel proud of elected officials who are adult enough to work with Obama when both parties agree, and principled enough to make the next president feel searing heat when they do not.
Our elected officials must never leave voters thinking they put their party's interests before voters' interests.
To me, the 2008 election was lost for McCain in two steps; one beyond McCain's control, the other of his own making. First, President Bush called for a $700 billion bailout - revealing that the Bush administration had failed in its oversight of the markets. Then, after McCain said he would push the bailout bill, House Republicans failed to deliver the votes to pass the measure on the first vote. Many Republicans opposed the bailout, others supported it. The thing is, both sides had reason to feel they were treated unfairly after House GOP leader John Boehner claimed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's highly charged partisan speech caused "12 wavering Republicans" to bolt on the first vote - only to watch them climb aboard a bill onto which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had strapped another $110 billion.
Sure it was the Dems who tacked on the extra $110 bil. But it was GOP leaders who were whimpering like babies - no slur on babies intended - when it was the taxpaying public that got hosed.
In the end, the important measure will be, not whether moderate or conservative, but the right pitch and focus - with more emphasis on results than ideology. The competence question will loom large. Yes, Republicans want smaller government (and I think most voters want smaller government, too), but whatever the size, Americans want their government to work, and to put the public's welfare first.