This weekend on FACE THE NATION, former Secretary Of State Gen. Colin Powell will address the outrageous comments of former Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks ago on the program when Cheney mockingly stated that he was surprised Powell was "still a Republican" and other personal attacks when Powell wanted to see the Republican Party broaden it's appeal to be able to win national elections again. Powell wanted to see the Republican Party to remain as potential second party in American politics. However, the reality is now that in many ways, the Republican Party has lost so much strength in various parts of the nation that it can no longer be considered to be a competitive second party in a position to win elections.
A very good example is what happened to the Republican Party in the state of Oregon.
Oregon had been a traditionally moderate Republican state throughout it's history until about 1976 when Gerald Ford just barely won the state, and moderate Republicans able to win statewide elections such as Clay Myers and former Governor Tom McCall began to become a little less representative of their party than the emerging smaller Reaganite Republicans. Ronald Reagan was able to carry the state in 1980 and 1984, but that was also with the help of some disillusioned Democrats. However the collapse of the Oregon Republican Party had really started.
Slowly as less quality moderate Republican candidates were available to run for statewide offices, the Republican Party became far less competitive statewide in elections. Most Oregonians could not vote for very conservative Republican candidates for office and the party started to become smaller and less relevant in Oregon politics.
The Republican Party began to field worse and worse and poor quality candidates for statewide offices such as governor who were not really yet ready for prime-time. One losing Republican candidate for governor, Kevin Mannix, was a former Democratic legislator who was even a George McGovern delegate in the 1972, who switched parties mainly because he became a social conservative on a few issues such as abortion. Another failed Republican candidate was Bill Sizemore, an antitax advocate who was the subject of a racketeering lawsuit when his organization was brought to court for using fraudulent signature to make the ballot and other problems. Neither candidate was acceptable enough to be elected governor. Further Republicans began to have less and less electoral success statewide.
Now the Oregon Republican Party is in such a mess that it has no reasonable chance to win any major statewide office, and in fact holds none. U.S. Senator Gordon Smith, a Republican lost his bid for re-election, now Democrats hold both U.S, Senate seats. And Democrats hold four of five U.S. House seats as well, where only the seat of Greg Walden, a Republican appears to be in a securely Republican area.
What is happening in Oregon is also being mirrored in New England as well, where the number of offices in Republican hands including statewide and in the U.S. Senate and House are quickly shrinking away and the Republican Party is becoming a largely noncompetitive force there as well.
California was once a dependably good Republican state where both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were able to mount their successful bids from that state. But this past year, the Republican Party has lost so much strength that John McCain lost the state by more than 3 million votes, which is an entirely noncompetitive figure by any means. Moderate Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger's election a few years ago when Democratic Governor Grey Davis was taken down from office was the last big break that California Republicans have seen in some time. But Schwarzenegger is now discovering how difficult it is to rule California, as his popularity really sags and five of six ballot measures last week intended to bailout education and state services miserably failed by margins that were not even that close as recession strapped voters said a loud "no". Schwarzenegger may be the last Republican Governor of this state for some years, as the the California Republican Party is certainly proving to have the same problems it is having in some other parts of the country. The party is not really a national party any longer, but largely a regional party in the South and parts of the West outside of the Pacific Coast region.
All of this leaves the Republican Party in a difficult position to be viewed as a credible second party in American politics in many areas of the country. Further, the angry attempts by Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh and others to exclude more moderate voters and to move the party to the right will only further shrink the base of the Republican Party, leaving it as a smaller and largely uncompetitive force in American politics. With only real pockets of strength in a few areas like the South, the Republican Party is hardly in a position to regain power in Washington anytime soon.
The fact of the matter is that Colin Powell is correct for those in the Republican Party who still want the party to remain as a viable second party in American politics. But the right wing ideologues like Cheney and Limbaugh continue to see this as some sort of battle for the "soul" of the party, which is only a path to a shrinking party much like the defunct Whig Party in American politics.
It is also true that moderates are a rapidly shrinking force within the Republican Party. However, unless they step up and assert their role within the party, then the Republican Party of the near future won't be in any electoral position to win enough elections to really be considered to be an authentic second party in American politics.