Looking for some great Republicans

Few Republicans will readily admit to being drawn to the ideas of Charles Darwin, but I am thinking we need to ponder Darwin’s theories to move the party forward after this election. At the very least, we need to embrace a “survival of the fittest” mentality as we create a new and more successful GOP.

Unfortunately, Republican politics don’t always work the way Darwin theorized that nature functions, through a process of natural selection in which individuals with favorable traits are more likely to survive than those with less positive attributes. Too often, bumbling officeholders, dysfunctional party functionaries and dumb ideas like the Fair Tax proposal survive to keep making the same mistakes.

There will be excuse-making voices on Nov. 5, pleading that Republicans were simply the tragic victims of a horrible political and economic environment. These voices will be consoling and never questioning of the leaders and decisions that got us here. There is, of course, some truth to the bad-environment notion. But who created that environment? With the revolving door used by candidates, lobbyists and consultants turning freely, there is broadly shared responsibility for the mess we’re in. Many of the same Republicans who once talked a good game about the importance of personal responsibility and accountability when the topics were welfare reform and violent crime have slacked off in their zeal for liability when it comes to economic and political results.

Someone needs to say “enough is enough” and demand new leadership, in Congress, at the committees — both official and independent — and at the grassroots level. If the Republican Party were an NFL franchise, I’m sure that the entire coaching staff would be fired at season’s end. That sort of drastic action doesn’t mean that every coach failed in his responsibilities, but there has to be some accountability for failures. We can’t fire the voters, so the coaches and players get run.

The other side of the coin is that some Republicans are succeeding — in particular, young Republicans. Newcomers to the process, bright stars like Pete Olson in Texas and Tom Rooney in Florida, are smart, serious and hardworking. They both were brassy enough to challenge incumbents in this tough environment.

And both might win. But win or lose, they bring a new perspective to the fight that sometimes seems to be lacking among the old guard. If an NFL franchise were looking for new offensive or defensive coordinators to replace the ones we’re firing, you could do a lot worse than Olson and Rooney, even with their modest campaign and political experience.

But experience must be served as well. The party cannot be rebuilt solely with rookies. A tough-minded and objective evaluation process must occur that looks at members of Congress, state legislative campaign operations, state party organizations and victory committee operations to see which ones were succeeding.

Who knows? We might find some veteran campaigners, laboring anonymously far outside Washington’s Beltway, who have unlocked the mysteries of winning Republican campaigns.

Where do issues and ideology figure in the rebuilding of the party? Isn’t the party too conservative? some critics ask. Others complain that the party isn’t conservative enough. It’s a moot question, so far as the party’s future goes. Our fortunes hang more on the recruitment of top-notch candidates, staffers and consultants than on fine-tuning the precise amount of Rush Limbaugh to dial into Republican rhetoric.

The “Great Man” theory espoused by some historians challenges the notion that social, economic and political environments control historical events. This theory allows us not to fret that we’ll be operating in a Democrat-controlled environment. Republicans can just focus on placing the right men and women in the correct positions for success in 2010. The great ones can make the GOP grand again. Start looking for them Tuesday night.

Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.