With President Barack Obama's election last November, the Republican Party was left rudderless and adrift at sea, unsure which direction to turn or whom to turn for direction. The crushing defeat of Republicans across the board in 2008 was a resounding rejection of the party's policies under former President George W. Bush.
However, as the new administration has undertaken bold and unprecedented actions to address the multitude of problems facing the country, the Republican Party has discovered a new purpose, unifying around a fervent desire to prevent the president from achieving his left-leaning political agenda.
The divisive debates over the stimulus package and its effectiveness, bailouts and buy-ins, cash for clunkers, and health care, have expended a considerable amount of Obama's political capital just a short nine months in office. Widely publicized Tea Parties this past summer helped to galvanize opposition to the president, who is no longer as wildly popular as he once was.
As happens periodically in American politics, the pendulum of public opinion has begun to swing slightly away from the party in power, and back towards an increasingly confident - though still rudderless – out of power Republican Party.
With falling approval ratings, the president's ability to sway reluctant members of either party into supporting his legislative agenda has been noticeably diminished. And should Obama fail to pass health care reform, he will be severely wounded politically, thus further encouraging the Republican Party's resurgence.
Sensing opportunity on the distant horizon, several figures within the Republican Party have already begun laying claim to the nomination of their party, and the right to challenge President Obama in his anticipated re-election bid in 2012.
At a recent Family Research Council's Values Voters Summit in Washington, 597 members of the organization participated in a straw poll of would-be presidential nominees after hearing speeches from the top three early contenders.
Present to give their conservative pitches were former Ark. Gov. and Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, and Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
With the first real tests of the Republican presidential nominating contest; the Iowa Caucuses and the N.H. Primary, still a full 28 months away, the troika of governors are already running hard against each other, and President Obama, for the nomination.
In his address to the organization, Huckabee used his infamous acerbic wit to needle Romney on his claims of successful health care reform while governor of Massachusetts. "The only thing inexpensive about Massachusetts' health care bill is that there, you can get a $50 abortion," he told he crowd.
For his part, Romney defended his health care reform efforts in Massachusetts, telling reporters, "Not every feature of our plan is perfect, but the lesson it teaches is this: You can get everyone insured, without breaking the bank and without a government option."
The lesser-known Pawlenty also used his speech to criticize Romney's health care reforms as governor, and continued to sharply condemn President Obama's policies.
Of the eight names under consideration in the straw poll, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, LA Gov. Bobby Jindal, Rep. Ron Paul, Rep. Mike Pence, and former Sen. Rick Santorum, the clear favorite of the ultra-conservative organization was Mike Huckabee, winning with nearly 29 percent of the vote. Receiving 12 percent each were Romney, Pawlenty, Palin, and Pence. The others registered in the single digits.
While the results of the straw poll are essentially meaningless (remember that Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani led polls two years out from the previous contests), the Huckabee, Romney, and Pawlenty speeches clearly indicate that the Republican Party has begun to reassert itself nationally, if only in opposition to the president's policies.
The next step in the party's return to significance must be to go beyond simply resisting everything the president proposes, and to develop policies of their own to address the difficult problems facing the country.