Generally, people in government call for a commission when things go really bad and they don't know what to do about it. One way to tell that things are going horribly for the Republicans is that they're launching a "commission-like" entity entitled the National Council for a New America as an effort to re-brand the Republican Party.
Here's the official gobbledygook that Eric Cantor's office supplied to the Washington Post.
"The NCNA [National Council for a New America] will bring together citizens from across the country to begin a dialogue with the American people through a series of forums, town halls, and an online effort that will engage people in a discussion to meet our common challenges and build a stronger country through common-sense ideas," the letter says. "The NCNA will be a dynamic, forward-looking organization that will amplify the common-sense and wisdom of our fellow citizens through a grassroots dialogue with Republican leaders."
Let me translate this into better political English. Republican political heavyweights have lost control over the Republican Party apparatus, the Republican Party brand, and the Republican Party message. Instead of Republican political, lobbying, and think tank elites disseminating a relatively unified Republican message, the heavyweights see a motley collection of has-beens, right-wing media types, political relatives, and lightweights out there killing the Republican Party with random chatter. Right now, the three most talked about Republicans are Michael Steele, Michele Bachmann, and Glenn Beck and that's just killing the Republican Party.
The letter says the group is not "a Republican-only forum." But GOP sources said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor played a top role in creating it. The group seems aimed at offering a conservative alternative at time when Democrats are lambasting the Republicans as the "Party of No" that simply attacks President Obama without offering policy ideas of its own. Its leadership does not include any Democrats.
"We do this not just to offer an alternative point of view or to bedisagreeable," the group's letter says. "Instead, we want to ask the American people what their hopes and dreams are. Since January, the President and the Democratic Majority in Congress have - rightfully so - put forward their plan for the future, now we must listen, learn and lead through an honest, open conversation with the American people that will result in building policy proposals that will yield the best results for our nation's long-term success."
What the National Council for a New America (NCNA) represents is an attempt by the political leadership to re-assert control over the Republican message. The NCNA is going to send out big names like John McCain, Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, and Eric Cantor to talk about Republican views on energy, health care, and foreign policy in a way that seems less self-indulgent and stupid than Michele Bachmann. In this way, the leadership hopes to cut through all the "conservatives in crisis" chatter and re-establish themselves as the primary spokespeople for the Republican Party. The leadership also hopes to showcase potential Republican presidential candidates like Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and Bobby Jindal as well as "elder statesmen" like John McCain. If the Republicans hope to have a credible presidential campaign in 2012, they know they will have to start undoing the damage of the last nine years now.
Don't be surprised if Michael Steele isn't locked in a hotel room somewhere for the first NCNA event next Saturday in Virginia.
What are the chances of the NCNA initiative working? Like most commissions, the odds are something close to zero that they'll any impact. In the case of the Republican Party, the inmates really have seized the asylum and I seriously doubt that party elites are in position to regain control. Far from being a sign of rebirth, the NCNA looks more like evidence of how badly the Republicans are sinking.