by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
In 2009, Democrats began the 111th Congress with an overwhelming advantage in the House and a near-filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Barack Obama took the oath of office on January 20 having romped to a convincing win over John McCain. It might have seemed as though a new age of Democratic dominance had dawned. Within two years, though, Barack Obama’s ability to enact his legislative agenda had died. A backlash against the president’s policies gave Republicans the House and began a multi-cycle liquidation of the Democratic bench across the country. Rather than responding to the challenges of the present, Democrats focused on pushing through a left-wing wish list in 2009–10 and reaped the whirlwind. Republicans should learn from that example.
But they should also learn from the example of the GOP’s last experience with unified control of the federal government. When George W. Bush delivered his second inaugural address, Republicans had control of the federal government to a degree they had not seen since Eisenhower’s first term. Despite that seemingly auspicious beginning, Republicans would lose Congress in 2006 and suffer electoral Armageddon in 2008. …
… Certain commonalities arise from these two examples. First, implementing a policy vision (such as the Affordable Care Act) without public buy-in is a parlous political enterprise. Second, voters demand competence and some plausible pretense of virtue in their government — and will reward the opposition party if the majority party falls short. Third, voters judge politicians on their results. If Iraq had not unraveled in the period of 2005–06 and if American casualties had not remained so high, Republicans might not have faced such a retribution in 2006; absent the financial crisis (which occurred on the watch of a Republican president), many GOP House members and senators might have been saved in 2008. If Barack Obama had restored vigorous, widely shared economic growth and not waged the left-wing culture war, Democrats would likely have a better standing in Congress, and Hillary Clinton would probably be president-elect right now.
In light of these experiences, Republicans need to put aside any ideological nostalgia and focus on the challenges of the moment.