WASHINGTON—In the wake of their party's devastating losses in the last election, a delegation of Republican leaders has come to Capitol Hill requesting a rescue package of $25 billion. "We're seeing a potential meltdown in the conservative movement," party chair Mike Duncan told lawmakers Thursday morning, "with consequences that could impact directly upon millions of middle-class Americans and cause further devastation to our economy. I support the free market, but the Republican Party is too big to fail."
"There's tons of jobs that depend on the Grand Old Party," agrees Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "I don't just mean the employees of the GOP itself. I mean all our partners and suppliers, everyone from Bechtel to the Connecticut for Lieberman Party. There's the field tech at Fox News, the secretary at the Heritage Foundation, the guy who keeps the shredding machine humming at Halliburton. Yes, Sean Hannity can always go back to pitching steakhouses. But not everyone has a valuable skill to fall back on. What about Frank Luntz? What do you say to him?"
Critics argue that Republicans need to feel the pinch of failure if the party is ever to reconstitute itself. "If you reward their losses, they'll just keep losing," says AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "They won't learn any discipline, and they'll keep making the same mistakes." Even some supporters of the rescue package were disturbed when an internal memo surfaced containing the party's plans for the bailout money. Approximately 15 percent was to be spent running ads about Bill Ayers in central Ohio, 25 percent was earmarked for "the Chalabi account," and 45 percent was to be used building infrastructure near Nome, Alaska.
Within the GOP itself, a few figures worry a bailout might come with too many strings attached. "I'd love to get some money from the government, but not if it means those liberals in Congress will be writing our next platform for us," says party strategist Karl Rove. "Who knows what concessions they'll demand? Give them a say in what we do, and you might suddenly see Republicans proposing an enormous new entitlement, or imposing federal mandates on local schools, or even nationalizing banks. The party of Goldwater would be dead."
With Democrats controlling both Congress and the White House, few expect the bailout to be at the top of the Washington agenda. Nonetheless, sources close to the president-elect say that even if the rescue proposal fails, Barack Obama might find another way to help the institution that did more than anything else to fuel his rapid rise from the Illinois State Senate to the Oval Office. "Obama owes his career to the Republican Party, and he's not about to forget that," says one insider. "Mark my words. By the time we're two years into his administration, the GOP will be reinvigorated like never before."
Managing Editor Jesse Walker is the author of Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America.