Assessing the Future of the GOP

The Republican party has been strained by the Miers nomination, war in Iraq, sliding poll numbers, and the indictment of House leader Tom DeLay. Steve Inskeep talks to Republican pollster Matthew Dowd about the present and future of the Grand Old Party.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Even before the Miers nomination the Republican Party was under strain from the war in Iraq, sliding poll numbers and the indictment of House Leader Tom Delay. We've been talking to Republicans about their party's present and future. This morning the president's former strategist, Matthew Dowd, says bad news is piling up.

Mr. MATTHEW DOWD (Former Strategist): It all seems to most voters that, you know, something has gone wrong in Washington and if that carries on too long then I think there's going to begin to be a sense of, `We've got to switch folks.' I think voters are still waiting to see the outcome of all these things but I think when you're the party in power, all those things aren't helpful.

INSKEEP: It also makes you wonder if some of these problems have actually changed what Republicans are going to stand for. One issue that comes to mind has to do with Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, who was seen as holding back the movement for deeper spending cuts until he had to step aside.

Mr. DOWD: Well, I think there's a big concern among the Republican Party, the desire to be fiscally responsible and to have cuts if we spend money on Katrina relief, then there needs to be some sort of offset. I think there is a part of the party that really wants to go back and examine the books. I think that will go on in the next year or next two years.

INSKEEP: The former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, said a few days ago on NBC that he thought it was the biggest crossroads as a party for the Republican Party that they've been in since Ronald Reagan was nominated in 1980 because of questions like whether the Republican Party would push for a balanced budget or not.

Mr. DOWD: You still have a party that has pretty much consistent consensus, I mean, by and large, though government has grown, there is this sense that they need to keep government small and efficient. By and large, the party believes that people's taxes should be returned to them. So I think it may be overstating it that it's at that major of a crossroad, though I think the 2008 elections will be a signal for each party of where it's headed.

INSKEEP: How will Republicans hold themselves together as President Bush prepares over the next couple of years to exit the stage?

Mr. DOWD: Really, for the last six years and really starting in '99 when then Governor Bush started to build consensus to the race for president, Republicans basically all got behind him. That is going to be gone and I think there's going to be people searching around not only for the person that will carry it, but their philosophical mandate that they want to express in the course of an election and I think that will cause some soul searching.

INSKEEP: What would you advise--and for someone like you, this is not really a hypothetical question, what would you advise to someone--a Republican asking for some suggestions about how to go forward?

Mr. DOWD: Luckily, I'm going to stand down for the 2008 election. If somebody called me and asked my advice on this, I mean, one, there is still a vast majority of the party that really cares for the president, so I think that whoever is nominated has to have some link, either direct or expressed, with the president. The other thing I think there's going to be a big discussion about fiscal discipline. I think that's going to be something that the party wants focused on. And the bigger issue that I think is going to emerge or continues to emerge is that what do you do about the rising costs of health care and coverage for people and health care? So if I were giving some advice, that's what I would say, but, you know, today's issues are not always tomorrow's issues. So I think some of us have to just wait and see what happens.

INSKEEP: Matthew Dowd was a chief strategist of President Bush's re-election campaign in 2004 and has remained an adviser to the White House. Mr. Dowd, thanks very much.

Mr. DOWD: Always glad to be here.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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