The Democrats lost the election bigtime, far more than the Republicans won it. As a Democrat I naturally worry more about my own party and what we should be doing, but that’s far from the most interesting story. After all, the Republicans inherited the vacuum amid 37% turnout and approval ratings for Congress at around 14%.
That’s not a win, it’s a default. And it’s not good to have power without any strong mandate.
What on earth should the Republicans do about it? There are two main schools of thought. One is to show that they deserve to be in government by demonstrating competence, the other is to keep pounding the Democrats and show how bad the other guys are. Governing seems like the obvious choice, but the landscape that has to be crossed is full of landmines. This might be an interesting two years.
While looking for good articles on the options, I came across two from the National Review that make for a good contrast. Given the passing of William F. Buckley, and for that matter a conservative Republican wing that is interested in actually governing, the National Review may not be as influential as it used to be. But it clearly represents the thinking of Establishment Republicans – the ones that have to pull the party together.
I don’t know of a good source for influential, unified Tea Party Republican thought. If you have one, please let me know.
The first article is by the usually reliable Charles Krauthammer. If you can get past his partisan bluster, the guy is a solid thinker and a real pragmatist. He likes getting things done. His advice to the party is explicit:
(The election) was a negative judgment, not an endorsement of the GOP. The prize for winning is nothing but the opportunity for Republicans to show that they can govern — the opportunity to seize the national agenda.
Five weeks ago, I suggested a series of initiatives that would be like the 1994 “Contract with America,” but this time post facto. It’s not rocket science. Mitch McConnell, the incoming Senate majority leader, and House speaker John Boehner are already at work producing such an agenda.
I like this for many reasons, none of them partisan. Of the many items he believes needs to be tackled most are reform-minded – hitting the tax code, closing corporate profit depatriation, and restarting Simpson-Bowles. As much as I think that there is an opening for the Democratic Party to become a party of wholesale reform, the natural place for this is in the Republican Party.
No matter how it gets started, major reform is essential. The world is changing through globalism, technology, and generational turnover in ways that we are not even close to grasping. Interjecting reform into our national political dialogue is essential, and probably something like a genie that cannot be put back once it is let out. Yes, let’s do this.
But there is a trap for the Republican Party if it tries to govern. The divisions between Establishment and Tea Party wings will necessarily show in any real policy debate, as discussed in this article by the unnamed Editors of National Review:
If Republicans proclaim that they have to govern now that they run Congress, they maximize the incentive for the Democrats to filibuster everything they can — and for President Obama to veto the remainder. Then the Democrats will explain that the Republicans are too extreme to get anything done.
A prove-you-can-govern strategy will inevitably divide the party on the same tea-party-vs.-establishment lines that Republicans have just succeeded in overcoming.
Some of that strain showed when Sen. Ted Cruz reflexively came out against Net Neutrality within minutes of Obama being for it. His statement that “Net neutrality is Obamacare for the internet” was relentlessly ridiculed across the ‘net by everyone who cares about openness. The traps for Republicans are even bigger than the National Review realizes – the party is completely not used to governing, but very used to throwing bombs. And let’s not forget the Libertarian wing of the party, their big wild card that keeps them from totally losing the youth vote.
Which will it be – a Republican Party that governs or something like a mob that keeps throwing bombs? So far, we have only seen the latter. I expect that this is what will win out despite the leadership trying desperately to take control of their caucus.
This might be a fun two years after all – unless, of course, you actually care for the future of the United States.