Mitt Romney’s stock has substantially increased among the GOP. The GOP tends to nominate someone that has had significant presence on the national scene. Usually the party nominates someone that has previously vied for the nomination and has either won or come in second place. Sometimes they have nominated a former VP candidate. Only rarely have Republicans broken from this pattern. Thanks to this pattern they ended up with Bob Dole in 1996 and John McCain (whom some have said is Bob Dole II) this year.

Democrats tend to do just the opposite. They usually nominate new faces, as was the case this year when they favored a relatively inexperienced Senator Obama over Hillary Clinton, their second best nationally known personality, (her husband Bill being the first).

Romney also improved his lot with the GOP by seriously campaigning for McCain. Although a McCain victory would likely have killed Romney’s chances for the party’s nomination in the future, he stumped for McCain in a full-hearted manner. Let’s just say that he has made significant inroads with the people that make up the party machine.

The entry of Gov. Sarah Palin onto the national GOP stage as McCain’s VP pick somewhat complicates Romney’s ascendancy to the party’s nomination because she avoids the party’s religious rift. There is no question that such a strong anti-Mormon current exists among Evangelical Republicans that a significant part of the party opposes Romney based on religion alone. Palin, herself an Evangelical Christian, would strongly appeal to Evangelicals that cannot stomach Romney’s Mormon religion.

Of course, no one knows today whether Palin will even consider a run in 2012. She’s a relatively new governor. Events in her state over the next couple of years could improve or damage her stock. Like all politicians, she has been shown to be imperfect. But there are sure to be groups with money and clout that will solicit her candidacy. Time will tell if she follows their siren song.

But who is in charge of the party right now? That’s not exactly clear. When a party has a president in the White House (or a president-elect going there), that person is the party’s leader. When a party has no one in the White House (or on their way there), party leadership is less clear. The national committee provides structure but not necessarily leadership. Different people vie for leadership and it even shifts from moment to moment. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. We’ll have to watch and see who emerges.

If politics is about winning, it should be clear to Republicans that they’re doing something wrong. They managed to hold onto enough senate seats to sustain a filibuster as long as no more than a couple of their senators defect (as has commonly been the case). But crowing about this is like being proud to be the owner of the wheel chocks instead of the owner of the airplane.

The GOP needs major retooling. Republicans need to offer something other than Democrat-lite. People that buy into the liberal-populist agenda will go for the genuine article every time over the wannabes. People need a real alternative, not just a different version of the same thing.

As Dick Armey has famously said, “When we act like us we win. When we act like them we lose.” Republicans need to figure out what they stand for and why they stand for it. They seem to have lost any sense of unifying principle other than to not be Democrats. When Republicans get this figured out they need to act accordingly.

I’m not holding my breath for this to happen. Too many in the GOP seem to be geared up to be in permanent minority status. They’re happy to fight the little squabbles rather than doing the hard lifting of redefining ideology.
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