by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
With President Obama firmly entrenched in the White House for a second term and Republicans left with control of just one chamber of Congress, how should the GOP approach the next two years of political and policy debates in Washington? Jay Cost of the Weekly Standard offers some ideas in a new column.
The first suggestion is also the easiest: Stop the Obama agenda. House conservatives unfortunately are in no position to enact a conservative alternative. Nor, for that matter, can they even force President Obama to reject it; Senate Democrats will reliably table anything that makes Obama look bad well before it gets to his desk. However, they can stop the advance of the left. This is not nothing, considering the ambitions of the president. What’s more, the implementation of his centerpiece program, Obamacare, has been problematic, to say the least, and House Republicans are in prime position to keep Democrats from “fixing” the law through more taxes, regulations, and governmental control.
Beyond that, matters become much more complicated. Hindsight is 20/20, and it appears clear in retrospect that congressional Republicans made a mistake in trying to force President Obama to deal responsibly with the country’s fiscal problems. He is not interested in leading (or following) on this issue. Worse, he has used the megaphone of the presidency to cast Republicans as the irresponsible party.
This is probably the GOP’s number one danger moving forward. It cannot allow President Obama to create the impression that Republicans are too radical or dangerous to govern. Without sacrificing its veto power over the liberal agenda, the best approach for the GOP is a strategic withdrawal from the battlefield. If there is no forcing this president to be responsible, and if the GOP is hopelessly outgunned in the PR war by the partnership of the White House and a pliant press corps, then the only sensible move is to demur. Republicans should pass whatever symbolic pieces of legislation are necessary to stake out the GOP’s position, but when it comes down to a choice between some kind of crisis (be it a government shutdown, the “fiscal cliff,” or whatever) and letting Obama have his way, Republicans should choose the latter.
Nancy Pelosi’s tenure as speaker in 2007 and 2008 is actually a good model for Republicans. The Democrats won in 2006 on a wave of antiwar sentiment, but so long as George W. Bush held the veto pen, there was relatively little they could do. Sure, congressional Democrats could have cut off war funding, but that would have been a PR disaster. So Pelosi and her leadership team passed symbolic bills to end the war, then acceded to President Bush’s requests for funding.
While avoiding unproductive confrontations in Washington, Republicans should turn their attention to the states as the main arena for conservative reforms. Which state leaders have been successful? Why have they succeeded? How can these lessons be translated to the national stage? Republicans should be optimistic about their future because, with so many leaders on the state level, it is possible for the GOP to get answers to these questions between now and 2016. Put another way, the GOP is like a baseball team that just missed the playoffs, but is fortunate to have an excellent system of farm clubs.