The Republican Party's Lost Six Months

The party held together to win an early national-security skirmish, forcing Obama to change course on his plans for prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Republicans stayed unified during the debate over a stimulus package that's growing less popular with the public, and GOP leaders are gearing up for a defining fight over health care reform.

A younger generation of Capitol Hill leaders has begun to emerge. Task forces are producing GOP policy alternatives. Republicans have also had a series of recruiting successes in 2010 races, nabbing top-tier Senate challengers just this week in New Hampshire and Illinois, for example.

"There's two different worlds going on," Bonjean said.

National figures such as Palin, Rush Limbaugh and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are "causing all kinds of news that isn't necessarily good for Republicans. On the other side you have Republican members of Congress who are working on cohesive messaging," he said.

One recurring problem for Republicans, however, is how to frame that messaging.

Some in the party have responded to calls for Republicans to put forward ideas with white papers and new legislation; others have greeted such efforts with eye-rolls, since they are extremely unlikely to have an impact on policies.

"I'm one of those who believe that saying 'no' is enough," said GOP strategist Carl Forti. "And that Republicans should be the 'party of no' and oppose everything that President Barack Obama is doing. And that's enough."

In the ongoing search for bright spots, emerging debates over health care and energy may give the GOP a chance to find new footing.

"I think people are beginning to pay more attention to us," Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a former two-time Republican presidential candidate, said on's "Top Line" Wednesday.

"The Republican Party is down. We've been sent to the woodshed," he said. "We're rethinking our positions. We're not changing our policies, but we're trying to apply our principles to the situation that exists today. And when you look at our plan for nuclear power, for housing, our various health care plans, our attitude on national defense, I think people in this country are growing much more comfortable with a check and balance. ... And that means more Republicans elected next year."

There is an even brighter spot: The knowledge that the 2010 elections are still more than a year away.

"You're going to have the best voices of the Republican Party emerge," Bonjean said. "But we're in for a roller-coaster ride."

"We're going to peak in November of 2010," Issa said.

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