Let the flowers bloom, GOP

Last August I penned a column asking for the unpaid armchair strategists who were second-guessing the McCain campaign to stand down. It was McCain’s campaign to lose on his own terms, I argued, and he did so. But now the time has come for all those budding geniuses of Republican politics and strategy to get back in the game and weigh into the debate as we chart a Republican future.

As in the summer of 1957, when Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed to the Chinese, “Let a hundred flowers blossom,” this is the proper season for Republicans to return to the fields for intellectual seed-planting and propagation of ideas. But even now, there is a need for limits on our party’s introspection. Mao is often misquoted as urging, “Let a thousand flowers bloom,” a figure 10 times what he actually asked for. We must ensure that our brainstorming doesn’t become a muddled Tower of Babel.

Someone has to take notes as the recording secretary of this garden party, so over the next few weeks I am going to share some of the bouquet of flowers being offered up by the better minds of our party.

So, starting in no particular order, I’ll hand the microphone to Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake. The good congressman wisely suggests contrition. “America loves a chastened and repentant sinner,” he prophesied recently. This is terrific advice. Addicts know that recovery begins only after you acknowledge culpability. I have learned this lesson in working for school districts to pass bond issues.

If a school board proposes a bloated building plan with more new construction than voters think is needed or can be afforded, and voters say no in a referendum, the stupidest thing you can do is to put the same proposal back on the ballot at the next election. But some districts try this strategy, thinking that they can sway people with more yard signs or a snappier slogan. In my experience, the districts that actually learn from the defeat succeed when they apologize, stating that they heard the voters’ collective voice and will come back with a smaller proposal. That’s the winning way.

Many Republicans hold the view that we were doomed by the economic environment, seemingly oblivious to the notion that our party may have had a hand in the financial meltdown. If Republicans would fess up to some responsibility, asking for forgiveness while proposing remedies and promising renewed accountability, there is a chance that Republican stock would soar.

Another good suggestion I have seen comes from Commentary’s Jennifer Rubin, writing in the Contentions blog. Ms. Rubin suggests focusing more on the ways of “winning” Republicans than dissecting our losses in ugly post-mortems. She asks, “How was it that Norm Coleman ran 10 points ahead of the top of the ticket?” and “Why did Bobby Jindal get elected and how is he now governing?”

Rubin thinks we should be listening to winners instead of whining losers. How refreshing is that notion?

More ideas next week.

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