2014 and Beyond: Containment and Rollback
The election is over. The teeth gnashing and circular firing squads should end, too. Now we have to work together to develop a strategy for the years ahead -- one that Ronald Reagan would endorse: containment followed by rollback.
At the onset, there were silver linings on Election Day that should not be dismissed. Barack Obama does not have a mandate. Obama won with nearly 7.5 million fewer votes than he had in 2008 -- the only president to win reelection with fewer votes than he had when first elected. Jim Geraghty at National Review notes that a mere 407,000 more Romney votes in four swing states would have landed him the Presidency. Thirty states now have Republican Governors, an all-time high. In 23 of those states Republicans also control both houses of the state legislature.
Obamacare is still very unpopular. Higher taxes are not favored, according to exit polls, regardless of Obama's claim to the contrary. Unions failed to get two constitutional amendments passed by voters in heavily unionized Michigan; the charter school movement scored wins in Washington and Georgia. The highlight of the evening was the continued GOP control of the House of Representatives.
Recriminations and Monday-morning quarterbacking have been going on for a week to explain how the Presidency was lost.
Hispanics, blacks, women -- all were susceptible to the various claims that Mitt Romney was going to wage war on them. They, along with many whites, apparently felt that Romney could neither relate to nor care about them (the 47% comment did not help). Romney did not combat the negative portrait being painted of him on screens across America early enough in the campaign. He was a plutocrat during a time when many Americans struggle to pay bills.
The primaries forced Romney to shift right on immigration (especially when Rick Perry entered the contest) when much of the rest of America was reconsidering their views on immigration and adapting to the reality that self-deportation was not just an odd word but also an unworkable concept. Obama's Get Out The Vote Effort was potent compared to the Republican effort. Obama's "Moneyball" victory (his use of data and social media to fuel his election) dwarfed the faulty and bug-ridden so-called Orca effort of Romney's. The primary became a circus -- too long, too boring, and perhaps a few too many candidates. The media had plenty of material to stereotype Republicans and were all out for Obama, ignoring Benghazi and the grieving parents asking questions of the President (compare and contrast to the beatification of Cindy Sheehan; the obsessive attention paid to Valerie Plame); the deep-sixing of news on Hurricane Sandy once Obama landed for a brief photo-op and Christie bear hug (the hug that may very well have cost Christie a future nomination for the Presidency). Bad demographics for a Republican Party seen, with some justification, as too old, too regional, and too white.
All true -- yet Romney would be president had just a few hundred thousand voters come to the polls in swing states and given him their vote.
Despair is not a Republican virtue. Nixon/Ford was followed by Carter and massive Democratic dominance in Congress. Yet a few years later came the Reagan Revolution that no less than Obama credited as being transformative.
The defeat last Tuesday was a setback; not a debacle.
Republicans should do some soul-searching and then throw themselves into the battle for the future of America.
Many pundits are counseling Hispanic outreach. There should always be outreach to all Americans, not just Hispanics. But Hispanics are the fastest-growing demographic group in America and can be swing voters in swing states. It is heartening to see that Republican leaders have announced plans to work on immigration reform -- certainly the language and approach can be more sensitive ("self-deportation" should be banned). A solution to this issue would take away ammo from the Democrats. Republican ranks are filled with highly accomplished Hispanics that can lead the way: not just Marco Rubio and New Mexican Governor Susana Martinez but also the newly elected Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz. Rand Paul, a favorite of the grassroots, favors a path to citizenship-providing cover for the GOP leadership
Republicans should avoid making the mistakes of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock when discussing abortion. Legitimate rape is an abominable term that was a deal killer for many people who might have considered casting a vote for Akin. Republican primary voters should have been alerted that the Democrats were spending over a million dollars to help Akin win the GOP primary for a very good reason: he was a loose cannon they knew would eventually blow up. Mourdock was a better candidate but blew his chance when making an awkward statement that was easily twisted by the Democrats and the media to make him unpalatable to voters.
These were winnable contests in red states. The Republicans have to avoid future fiascos (they and the Tea Partiers should have learned from Nevada's Republican candidate Sharron Angle and Delaware's Christine O'Donnell that picking bad candidates leads to a nasty hangover). The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) was excoriated for backing Charlie Crist over Marco Rubio in 2010 and so has backed away from actively involving itself in GOP primaries for risk of offending the grassroots and Tea Party again. Rubio seems to have gotten over it and so should the grassroots. Tea Party reps and the NRSC have to have an adult conversation and work together the next cycle. Politico reports the most likely solution is to "enlist conservative outside groups to try to steer electable candidates towards nomination." Rahm Emanuel was a superb talent scout for the Democrats in finding winning candidates. Certainly, there are Republicans who would serve their party just as well. Viability and electability should be job requirements.
All is not lost. As Politico's Alexander Burns writes:
The good news for the GOP, such as it is: it took Democrats exactly two years to go from losing the presidential race and losing ground in the Senate in 2004, to reclaiming both houses of Congress in 2006. So these things can move fast, if parties do what they have to do to adapt.
The better news is the GOP has a second chance to score significant victories in two years. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post looks at the political landscape that could prove fruitful for the GOP:
While the map was difficult for Democrats this year, it's murderous in 2014.
Here's the breakdown:
- 20 Democrats will be up for reelection, compared to 13 Republicans.
- 12 of those 20 Democrats come from either red states (six) or swing states (six).
- Only one of the 13 Republicans comes from a state that isn't red, and that's Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), whose seat is basically safe unless she retires.
Top GOP targets are likely to include Democratic Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Max Baucus (Mont.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Mark Udall (Colo.), Al Franken (Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) and Kay Hagan (N.C.). Five of the nine are first-term senators, and Republicans have already got a strong potential candidate against Johnson, with former governor Mike Rounds launching an exploratory committee last week.)
Republicans could also have a chance at winning the seats of Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), particularly if either of them (both are in their 70s) retire.
The Senate provides a target-rich environment for the Republicans in 2014 and the Democrats won't have Barack Obama on the ballot to help them rally voters (witness 2010's red tide).
Meanwhile, the House can be used to contain Barack Obama and the Senate Democrats.
The House has become a "refuge" for Republicans in the words of Michael Barone. There are several structural advantages that have led to the GOP controlling the House in 8 of the past 10 elections (among them is that Democrats tend to be concentrated into certain districts; hence the wide red blotches on electoral maps).
From their perch in the House, the Republicans can check some of the more aggressive Obama policies through their power to originate spending bills (threaten funding for the EPA, for example), fully use their power to subpoena and investigate the administration over its actions (Chairman Darrell Issa of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is indefatigable and one hopes will illuminate more Obama failures beyond Fast and Furious and Benghazi; Paul Ryan as Chairman of the Budget Committee will make clear to Americans how damaging President Obama has been to our future), and the ultimate power to "just say no" to furthering Obama's agenda. The House served as a check on Obama the last two years; there is no reason it cannot do so again.
The Republicans will also be in a position to benefit politically from Obama's failed policies.
Already, there has been a mini-tsunami of layoffs stemming from Obama's victory (that some employers have informed their employees was due to Obama's win), as well as a trillion dollar loss in the world's stock markets. Obama wins and millions of people lose -- that should be graffiti on any future monuments to him.
Obama has postponed a lot of decisions until after the election. There has been a lot of talk about the fiscal cliff but few comments on the regulatory cliff. A slew of regulations have already begun spewing forth. The EPA has "delayed" regulations affecting a wide variety of industries (including rules on fracking and clean air regs) but the zealots there will soon be let loose from their election handcuffs.
After Obama won, the Interior Department issued a plan to close oil shale development on 1.6 million acres of federal land.
Obama will be compelled to finally make a final decision on the XL pipeline.
All these decisions will have political consequences -- potentially painful ones for Obama and the Democrats if the Republicans can tie them to job losses, higher energy prices and less personal income.
Parties in Obama's coalition have different interests; environmentalists will be upset if XL is approved; union members will be furious at the jobs lost if XL is killed. Political coalitions can be fragile and sunder over time.
Now that Obamacare is rolling out, people will begin to feel the baleful consequences of its provisions. Readers of conservative media know what they are but many other people who probably voted for Obama do not. They soon will.
Do all those young people, besotted by Barack, realize they will be on the hook for thousands of dollars if they do not have insurance? Given the many videos circulating that display their appalling lack of knowledge of the real world, one can surmise that many of them are blissfully ignorant of the due bill coming to them.
When people look for full-time work, will they find that what few jobs available are for fewer than 30 hours a week? When onerous Obamacare requirements kick in for employers of more than 50 full-time employees, full-time being defined as 30 hours of work a week for purposes of Obamacare (a lax work schedule that Obama himself seems to follow), will that be disillusioning?
As the months go by, more burdens of Obamacare will impact people (among them, not being able to keep the health insurance offered by your employer; IRS reporting requirements; longer waits; denial of care; increased taxes on house sales; difficulty in finding doctors; and who knows how many rules and regulations to be issued by Health and Human Services).
Furthermore Republicans need not cooperate in rolling out Obamacare. They can contain the damage by refusing to set up state health exchanges and burden the federal government with one more unsustainable responsibility. Republicans should allow Obama and the Democrats to live with the mess they made rather than clean it up for them, suggests Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner
Taxes will also be going up. The Obamacare tax hikes are coming regardless of any possible termination of the Bush tax cuts. The temporary payroll tax cut that was agreed to in 2011 will end; people will see less money in their paychecks. That will get attention. If we go off the fiscal cliff, taxes will soar and a recession will ensue: Obama will be the president that oversaw that disaster.
People might be inclined to respond that a poor economy did not cost Obama the election last week. So why should the Democrats suffer blowback in the future?
As noted, many problems and much pain have been postponed until after Obama won. They are now on the horizon.
Alas, Mitt Romney was far from a perfect candidate for President. Romney is not a natural. He lost the primary in 2008 to John McCain; lost a Senate race to Ted Kennedy, and dropped out before he would lose the Massachusetts gubernatorial race to Deval Patrick.
Also, exit polls and surveys reveal that many people still blame George Bush for economic problems. But there has to be a half-life to the Blame Bush meme. Eventually people will blame Obama for the mess he inherited from himself. Patience wears thin when people cannot find work and find the decline in personal income continuing to crush them (in the words of Joe Biden).
Then rollback can happen.
The Senate might just flip-one can hope that the Republicans get their act together. Better candidates, better GOTV efforts, better messages, better use of modern technology-all will be needed. One positive bit of news: Rience Priebus-who has done a remarkable job in strengthening the Republican national Committee-looks likely to stay on.
Come 2016, the Republicans have a good bench at the Presidential level: Mike Pence, governor of Indiana and a man who can bridge the divide between the Tea Party and the GOP; Paul Ryan; Virginia Governor Bob McConnell; Ohio's Bob Portman; Marco Rubio (in George Will's view the big winner on Tuesday night) are among them.
Who do the Democrats have? Hillary Clinton most probably. Will she inherit Obama's base? She will be able to garner support among women, but how about the youth and African-Americans? They did not come out to support Democrats in 2010. They did not support her enough in 2008. She will be approaching 70. Obama's coalition may not be Clinton's.
Will Bill Clinton's work on behalf of Obama be remembered or appreciated in four years? Will Obama actively campaign for Clinton? Given his nature and narcissism, that is doubtful. There is little warmth between them and Obama is unlikely to forget slights from 2008.
Beyond that speculation, how likely will America return the same party to power as President three terms in a row?
So...my advice and appeal to Republicans:
Do not despair, brush yourself off, stand up, be counted, stay true to your principles and ideals, work hard and win one for the Gipper in 2016.