Matt Moon asks whether we need a Shadow Cabinet a la the Brits? I think it's a splendid idea, but the key differences between the U.S. and British systems make it unlikely without some sort of formal party reform. To make it possible, we need a formal opposition party policy apparatus independent of the Hill and comprised of Governors, Hill leadership, and think tanks.
It's important to appreciate the differences between the U.S. and Great Britain. The British Opposition is better equipped to provide symbolic leadership and positive policy alternatives because they have few legislative responsibilities and the Government is essentially unitary, consisting primarily of the House of Commons.
Britain effectively has an elected dictatorship. Party discipline in Commons votes is very strict and there is no written Constitution or meaningful judicial check. Parties have very little power in Opposition under the British model, but near total power in Government.
This means the opposition Conservatives are freed from any real responsibility for legislating. Opposing Government bills is nowhere near the task it is here (the filibusters, the lobbying, the ad campaigns, etc.). The British also anoint their election standardbearers in the months after the defeat. This is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that they set the party's direction very early on and have 4-5 years to flesh it out before a new election. A curse in that new leadership is foisted on the party while it's still in shellshock and they have to essentially ride out the duds until the next election. The Conservatives have gone through four leaders since losing power in 1997: William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard, and now David Cameron (who looks like he will become Prime Minister).
Contrast to the American model: the opposition has a chance to stop or amend the majority's legislation, especially in the Senate -- though usually not to see bills of our own passed into law. That makes the role of the American opposition inherently negative -- filibustering bad legislation -- in contrast to the largely symbolic Parliamentary theatrics of Great Britain -- where the Leader of the Opposition (and his Shadow Cabinet) appears on national television each week for Prime Minister's Questions and is free to act as a pseudo-executive.
A lot of the criticism post-election has focused on the notion that nobody knows what the Republican Party is for. Without reform, that problem is likely to get worse before it gets better as our primary role (quite legitimately) is to stop bad bills from becoming law before we can lay out an agenda of our own (which traditionally comes with the next Presidential nominee, and very rarely, in the midterms as with the Contract with America).
Part of the problem lies in the separation of powers. There is no shadow to the President or the cabinet. Members of Congress actually have real jobs, but they're generally apt to express a policy vision in unintelligble gobbledygook.
What we need is a policy arm independent of the existing policy infrastructure on the Hill that incorporates the best of what's happening in the states, on the Hill, and in the think tanks. A Republican National Policy Committee would be tasked with crafting a larger message that's bigger than just House Republicans or Senate Republicans, but that includes both and Governors as well. An RNPC would have de-facto last word on the elusive question of what the Republican Party is for, would appoint "shadow cabinet" spokespeople to directly respond to what's happening at the departments and agencies, and have point on crafting a Contract-like Republican platform for the midterm elections. Part think tank, part messaging engine, a Republican policy committee would keep the ideas flame alive until a Presidential nominee emerged.
The RNC can't do this because it's a campaign institution not a policy institution. The RNC Chairman is more like the chief strategist or top surrogate for a campaign than he or she is the overarching leader of the party. House and Senate Republicans can't usually rise above the din of opposition to craft an overarching alternative platform. Very few people on Main Street care about what the Senate Conference or the RSC says.
I could think of worse people for the role of Republican policy czar than Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, the policy-innovating, budget-slashing former OMB director just re-elected by 18 points while Obama was carrying the Hoosier state. Daniels may run for President in four years -- and in that case, that job should go to someone without Presidential ambitions, but the ideal chairman of the RNPC would be someone like Daniels who understands both the policy and the politics.
This is a fairly dramatic break from the structure of opposition parties. But if you take seriously the idea that we need to be advancing a more coherent policy platform, as well as directly bracketing what's happening in the White House and the regulatory agencies, not just in Congress, then it's an idea worth examining.