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Commentary: Stop throwing dirt on GOP 'grave'

  • Story Highlights
  • Ed Rollins: Some in the media rushing to declare Republicans extinct
  • He says distance between Dick Cheney and Colin Powell no longer relevant
  • Republicans bounced back from devastating Watergate scandal, he says
  • Rollins: Republicans will develop new leaders and become a force again
By Ed Rollins
CNN Contributor
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Editor's note: Ed Rollins, a senior political contributor for CNN, is Senior Presidential Fellow at the Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University. He was White House political director for President Reagan and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Ed Rollins says the Republican Party has bounced back from defeat before and will do so again.

Ed Rollins says the Republican Party has bounced back from defeat before and will do so again.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- My message to the national media and political pundits on their premature obits on the Republican Party: Quit throwing dirt on our graves!

We may be feeble, but we are not dead and to paraphrase a quote from the Terminator: We'll be back.

Being older than dirt myself, I have a perspective others might not have. I have been amazed recently at all the stories in the media regarding the perceived end of the Republican Party. It might be wishful thinking on some of their parts. This week's Time magazine cover story titled "Endangered Species" is the epitome.

The defection of Sen. Arlen Specter to the Democrats after polls showed he would lose badly in a Republican primary, and the rocky start of new Republican National Chairman Michael Steele has created a feeding frenzy.

Ironically in 2001, after Sen. Jim Jeffords switched to the Democrats, Sen. Specter wanted a rule change that wouldn't allow senators to change their parties between elections. And how many of you can name the last four Republican Party chairmen? Or Democratic Party chairmen for that matter.

Another debate heated up over the weekend when former Vice President Dick Cheney commented on former Secretary of State Colin Powell's Republican credentials on "Face the Nation." Cheney said he thought "Colin had already left the party." He also said he thought Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama was "some indication of his loyalty and his interests."

Obviously Cheney took the Obama endorsement as a betrayal by a man he recommended to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and whose nomination as Secretary of State he certainly had to approve in his role as vice president. But neither Cheney nor Powell are the future of the Republican Party, so the debate is no longer relevant.

As bleak as things might seem today for Republicans, I have to put things into context.

I became a Republican in the summer of 1972. I was involved in running President Nixon's re -election campaign in California and became part of his administration at the start of his second term.

In very short order after my arrival in Washington in January 1973, the Nixon administration came apart at the seams with a daily soap opera of criminal charges, congressional hearings, federal indictments and the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew for bribe taking, followed 10 months later by the resignation of Richard Nixon who was about to be impeached by the Congress.

I was demoralized and ashamed of the leaders of my new party. But I wasn't going to quit because I still believed in the principles of strong national defense and smaller government, and in the idea that working people should do better than those who don't.

In the aftermath of all this, Republicans got slaughtered in the midterm elections of 1974, losing 48 House seats and five Senate seats. Republicans had only 144 House members in the 94th Congress.

Two years later, Jimmy Carter was elected president and I was convinced Republicans would be in the wilderness the rest of my political life. After the first 100 days, President Carter's approval rating was 69 percent -- higher than President Obama's.

And four years after that I was working in the White House as an assistant to President Ronald Reagan -- who defeated Carter by a landslide and won a Senate majority and a philosophical majority in the House. For 20 of the next 28 years, a Republican was in the White House.

In spite of losing five of those seven presidential elections, hardly anybody was saying the Democrats must move to the right. No, they nominated Mondale, Dukakis, Gore and Kerry -- all liberals and two of them "Massachusetts liberals."

When the Republicans controlled the House from 1994 -2006, Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, Henry Waxman Charlie Rangel, John Conyers and Rahm Emanuel weren't saying we need to move right to win. They stuck to their philosophy. And they fought against Reagan and they fought against the Bushes. And eventually they did win -- or we lost by being inept.

So Republicans must stick to their philosophy too. I am not predicting here that Obama will fail like Jimmy Carter. What I am predicting is the Republican Party is not extinct and will after a period of time become a strong opposition party.

I am also predicting that in the 2010 midterm elections, new governors and new senators will come on the horizon and in short order the mantle of leadership will be passed. In that election, 36 Senate seats and 36 governor's races are up for grabs.

Just as Karl Rove was wrong when he bragged that Republicans would become a permanent governing majority for the foreseeable future, my friend James Carville is wrong in saying we will be in the wilderness for the next 40 years.

We may be down for awhile, but what we won't become is a "Democratic Party lite"! We are a party that wants smaller government and lower taxes. Obama and the Democrats do not. We are a party that wants to encourage small business.

We are a party that has a large constituent group that believes in a social agenda and we will not abandon them. We are a party that believes in the Second Amendment -- and every other amendment for that matter -- and don't feel they need to be altered by the Supreme Court or the Congress.

The need to find a new generation of leaders is an ongoing challenge that falls to both parties on an ongoing basis. Equally important, we as a party have to become more technologically competent in our campaign tactics -- and our message has to relate better to young voters.

We also need to reach out to constituency groups that have not been traditional Republicans. The Democrats have their leader in Obama and we will find ours.

We now have a serious challenge in the battle for the direction of the country, and the future of our children. In one sense the country is blessed to have two divergent views and two distinct parties. That's what makes our democracy strong.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Rollins.

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