Last week, the GOP completely caved on the debt ceiling, ending a series of tactical missteps over the last eight months that have hurt the party and the nation. It started with the farm bill in June, and ended with the debt ceiling – a combination of moves that started off with too little compromise regarding the farm bill and the government shutdown, and ended with merely a whimper with the budget deal, the passage of the farm bill, and the raising of the debt ceiling.
While the GOP has done some things right, such as blocking the latest extension of unemployment benefits, this kind of fiscal discipline is far too sparse. And we haven’t even seen the House’s version of immigration reform, which some think will be nearly as bad as the Senate’s bill.
That is the tactical insanity of the GOP and some conservatives.
In the battlefield of Washington politics, there has to be a long-term strategy in place. Democrats have one, and they use it brilliantly: Create dependence, and when the dependence fails, blame the lack of government control. Control is then expanded to fix a problem created by the prior expansion of government power.
What is the Republican strategy? Some days, the hard line is used, and the farm bill fails. Other days, a budget deal that eviscerates sequestration passes with enormous bipartisan support. But always Republicans and conservatives are reactionary, never putting forth a long-term agenda of real change for the betterment of America.
Republicans tell the American people that they will make things better if they are voted into office, but lately it looks like they can’t decide whether to be fiscally conservative Republicans or just the Democratic Party lite. Consider how the allegedly conservative Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, led Republicans in both chambers into supporting a budget deal that castrated sequestration in exchange for …well, nothing.
Even those who defend their votes against the unemployment insurance have an almost apologetic tone, not one proud to stand for fiscal responsibility and tough-but-necessary decisions. But who can blame them, with dozens of Republicans supporting billions in subsidies for rich farmers while simultaneously standing against assistance for the poor?
While holding up unemployment insurance extensions is good policy, the Republican Party is really looking like the Party of the Rich and the Party of Policy Whiplash. Where are the Republicans piling up to cosponsor legislation to cut duplication in the budget, which totals hundreds of billions of dollars annually? Why aren’t conservatives coalescing around a truly free-market alternative to the Affordable Care Act, and why are corporate subsidies all but ignored in many GOP and conservative circles on the Hill?
In some ways, the Republican Party and its conservative base are faced with an impossible quandary: Democrats won’t make necessary reforms to Social Security, Medicare, and other social programs, which leaves Republicans looking like the bad guys when they offer reforms to social programs. Democrats can say Republicans are trying to take stuff away from people, and the media will echo their claims – even if the GOP efforts are modest, such as the Ryan Medicare plan.
So what can be done? How can Republicans get themselves back on the proverbial horse and win both elections and the trust of the American people?
First, come up with a positive agenda. Anti-Obama language will only go so far; Republicans should make the moral and economic arguments for tax reform and spending cuts. Sell the country on regulatory reform and how this will increase personal liberty and wealth.
Second, make sure the agenda is actually effective, not just a cheap knockoff of real change. As Senator Paul pointed out in a speech last week, Republicans should go big on tax reform, not aim for the lukewarm “revenue-neutral tax reform” so popular in the Beltway.
Third, make the case directly to the American people through all available media channels, even MSNBC and the New York Times. Blitz the media, blitz social media channels, and make it clear the Republican Party is the party of responsible, effective policy.
The alternative is for the GOP to alienate its base by eliminating sequestration, undercut the rule of law via amnesty, and continue to be the Democratic-lite Party.
While being the conservative party once again does entail risk for the GOP, it is a better alternative for the country. And, certainly, it is a better option for the party – simply put, Democrats promise more stuff than Republicans, which means by being Democratic-lite the GOP will alienate its base and those who want more stuff.
An effective policy and media campaign to put the nation back on solid financial and economic footing is often a pipe dream in the Beltway. But it’s the only chance America has of getting through the next two decades without the difficulties projected by the Congressional Budget Office, and it just might help the GOP survive as a party.