The alleged Republican resurrection

What is the real meaning of the truly remarkable turn of events that we have witnessed in the past 15 to 16 months? The Republican Party barely survived a nosedive crash in the 2008 elections and has dusted itself off to make what appears to be a spectacular takeoff for the 2010 campaigns.

The GOP swoon began well before the last November election. I noted a serious blog entry by an earnest blogger on Oct. 13, 2008: “Is This the

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Beginning of the End for the Republican Party?” He went on to say, “Political parties are not immortal, even in this country.” Then he proceeded to draw analogies between Whigs and Republicans. Oh, the horror. About the same time, someone else noted, “Wall Street has abandoned the Republicans, donating more to Democrats in the ratio of 2:1.” Historically important Republican names like Susan Eisenhower were said to be leaving the party.

But the indignities didn’t cease with the pasting Republicans took on Nov. 4, 2008. In April 2009, Arlen Specter said adios to the Republicans. The same month, a lifelong Republican in Florida’s 5th congressional district said he would run as a Democrat. In May, even Joe the Plumber said he was quitting.

Secretaries of state and election clerks across America were announcing declining GOP voter-registration figures.

A year ago, someone asked the Yahoo! Answers site: “How long before the Republican Party is extinct?” The first response was, “It’s over. Failed philosophy. World is changing and leaving them behind.” Another blogger chimed in shortly thereafter, “Republicans in Freefall.”

A New York Times headline late last February warned: “Ailing GOP Risks Losing a Generation.” That was followed in May by a Time magazine story, “Republicans in Distress: Is the Party Over?”

This all culminated just a few months ago when Brendan Nyhan assessed the “Republican Brand” in an analysis on the respected Pollster.com blog.

Concluded Nyhan: “The overall finding is simple — the GOP’s standing relative to the Democrats … is worse than any opposition party [he studied]; the Republicans are currently viewed more negatively than any minority party in the previous four midterms in terms of both net favorables and the difference in net favorables between parties. In short, there’s no question that the GOP party brand is in worse shape than any opposition party in recent memory.”

Conservative radio host and one-time Republican John Batchelor summed all this up in the vernacular, declaring his Republican Party a corpse. “The GOP is a mummy-wrapped skeleton sitting in its own chilly mausoleum of bilious resentments and creepy sentimentality.”

And then, when the body was buried and molding, along came the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections, followed by the Massachusetts Senate miracle. It’s a Republican resurrection, some would say. But is it really? Or have Obama and the Democrats done such a bad job that voters will choose a dead Republican over a live Democrat?

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In my view, the recent and remarkable Republican successes are better explained by candidate images than by a sudden surge in GOP brand appeal.

Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell and Scott Brown are all interesting and engaging personalities who cause you to trust them to lead in spite of their partisan brand. You might say they are genuine products of post-partisan politics, unlike Obama and the Democrats, who in their first year in the majority proved themselves more like the old and unpopular partisan hacks.

Both parties are suffering, and candidates who think they can skate through mainly on partisan branding are in for big disappointments. Ask Martha Coakley. Neither party has a deep and wide enough reservoir of good will to singularly sustain a successful candidacy. Pundits of the past have prematurely said, “The party is over.” They may finally be confirmed.

David Hill has been a Republican pollster since 1984. This cycle he is polling for gubernatorial campaigns in four states.