GOP's "Angry," "Negative" Tone Killing the Party

The Times' chief politcal reporter says Rush Limbaugh is definitely not a "Happy Warrior." But has Adam Nagourney ever actually heard Rush's show?

A Tuesday web posting by the Times chief political reporter Adam Nagourney has more helpful advice for the Republican Party in "G.O.P. Worries About Negative Tone."

"Some days you're rolling the barrel, and some days you're rolling in the barrel. The fact is that right now, Republicans are rolling in the barrel."

Richard N. Bond, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, offered that observation in the wake of another rough patch for the party. The latest round of intramural debate came on Sunday when Dick Cheney, the former vice president, assailed not only President Obama, but also Colin Powell, the former secretary of state, a Republican who endorsed Mr. Obama.

Mr. Cheney said on CBS's "Face the Nation" program that he would prefer Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio commentator, to Mr. Powell, a member of the shrinking class of moderate Republicans, as spokesman for his party. Within hours, the Democratic National Committee had used video from that interview - along with other Sunday morning appearances by Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, last year's Republican presidential nominee - to produce a mocking Web advertisement that sought to portray Republicans as negative, out-of-touch and mired in the past.

The Times invariably portrays moderates as an endangered species in the GOP, and any conservative move as ballot box poison. Back on April 30, Nagourney co-wrote a story suggesting the GOP either avoid "ideological purity" and show more "flexibility" or risk permanent marginalization. He made the same helpful suggestion in his Tuesday web piece, couching it as a question of tone, not ideology.

The Republican party's difficulty in finding something forward-looking to - as well as the right people to say it - has been on display for much of the six months since Mr. Obama defeated Mr. McCain.

Yet recent days have underlined the extent to which Republicans have another challenge: How to say it.

A party that has over the years been the home of a series of optimistic figures in American politics - from Ronald Reagan to Jack Kemp, who died last week, to (at times) George W. Bush - is increasingly coming across as downbeat or angry. And it is something that has Republicans increasingly worried.

Nagourney made a crack against Dick Cheney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh. But how much Limbaugh does Nagourney listen to in order for him to claim Limbaugh is not a"Happy Warrior"?

The Democrats took obvious delight in the new round of attention paid to Mr. Cheney, Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Limbaugh, none of whom, it seems fair to say, are graduates of the Happy Warrior school of politics. Mr. Murphy said the influence of people like Mr. Limbaugh is overrated - "He doesn't have that much power; he has the power to make a lot of noise" - and that over time, less-known leaders are going to develop the voice the party needs.

Cheney may have a dour reputation, if only through hostile characterization by the media and his emergence as a chief harbinger of dangerregarding the war on terror. But Gingrich and especially Limbaugh can be humorous - a major source of Limbaugh's appeal is his ability to present conservative ideas and mock liberal ones with humor.

Nagourney next conflates a negative tone with standing on conservative principle, implying that it was a mistake for South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford to stand on federalist principles regarding Obama's enormous "bailout" plan,

But it is not only figures from the party's past. For many Republicans, the party struck the wrong tone when Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina - who also is frequently mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2012 - refused a portion of the stimulus money authorized for his state as part of the economic recovery package.

That high-profile act of defiance drew Mr. Sanford national attention, as well as sharp attack by many people in his own state, including Republicans. It was a reminder, if Republicans needed one, of the challenges the party faces in the months ahead.

Of course, the Times helped set the national tone against Sanford with hostile, mocking coverage of the governor's "defiance." As always, the paper's cure for Republican woes is to jettison conservative principles.