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Republicans Become the Loyal Opposition


Once President-elect Barack Obama takes office on January 20, the Democratic Party will hold the presidency and the majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Republican Party now must adjust to its new role as the loyal opposition, after holding the majority in Congress for 12 of the last 14 years and the presidency for the past eight.

How will the Republicans likely position themselves as they try to walk the line between supporting the government and opposing administration policy?

Once Senator Barack Obama becomes President Obama, the Democratic Party will control both the Presidency and Congress. Republicans will be relegated to minority party status, but losing can be liberating.

Republicans will be no longer be represented by an unpopular president, no longer be responsible for an unpopular war and an economic crisis. Still, if the party wants to regain power, political analyst John Fortier of the American Enterprise Institute says Republicans will have to begin by supporting President-elect Barack Obama.

"It is true though, that at the beginning of an administration with a victory as Barack Obama has had, that he will have a lot of leeway [with] the American people," Fortier said. "They will wish him well. Republicans will not want to be seen as too obstructionist."

Alex Conant with the Republican National Committee says the party intends to play a positive role in government. "We are going to be the loyal opposition. But I hope that we're also the constructive opposition," Conant said. "We got big ideas about where we want to take this country."

Conant says there is less division today on foreign policy matters. President-elect Obama has reassured Republicans by retaining current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The Bush administration has already agreed to a timeline for withdrawing from Iraq. The recent terror attacks in Mumbai and Pakistan, and the resurgence of the Taliban, reinforces Mr. Obama's views that the U.S. military needs to re-focus on that part of the world.

However, economic issues will likely divide the parties, says Conan, with the Republicans trying to position themselves as fiscal conservatives. "President Obama has talked about increasing government spending and increasing taxes. Certainly we will be opposed to any new tax increases. And we want to keep a lid on spending," Conan stated. "We think that the deficit is already too large. We think that that is going to be the first and biggest issue where the two parties really disagree."

But Richard Wolf, a liberal columnist with Newsweek magazine, says the economic crisis is forcing many Republicans to compromise their principles.

"The obvious position for fiscally conservative Republicans would be to oppose all of these bailouts because you are interfering with the marketplace," Wolf said. "There is no sign that this move will have any effect really, but on the other hand who wants to be responsible for the complete collapse of the American car industry?"

In the long-term, Fortier says, Republicans must address issues that divide their own party like immigration and gay marriage. Heartened by the recent election of Vietnamese immigrant Anh "Joseph" Cao of Louisiana to Congress, the party will look to him and others, like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, to reflect the growing diversity of America.

"Our system is an odd one in that the "out" party doesn't have a real leader until we nominate someone in 2012 to run again for president. There are leaders, people in Congress, but no single leader to unite the party," Fortier said.

Even as they prepare to greet the new president, Republicans are already thinking of the next election.

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