Out With the Old…


Cade Baxter

“Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.” – Edmund Burke

Now that it’s 2014,  what can and should the Republican party change about itself? 2014 represents another opportunity for the GOP to expand its majority in the House and perhaps even gain wrest control of the Senate from the Democrats. There are parallels with the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006: it’s the president’s second term, his popularity is on the decline, and he is the champion of an unpopular policy (the Iraq war in 2006, Obamacare in 2014). On the heels of the 2006 election, Democrats were able to take back the White House and push through one of the most massive overhauls of the United States’ health care system since Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law. Theoretically, Republicans could do the same if they make large enough gains in Congress this year.

Of course, the important word in that sentence is “theoretically”. Although Republicans have a shot at gaining control of Congress, they could easily erase that opportunity if they continue to make the same mistakes that they have made since 2010. This would not bode well for the party’s presidential nominee in 2016; Republicans have not lost three presidential elections in a row since the Truman years, but if they keep on making the choices that have cost them the last two, especially if they’re up against as strong a candidate as Hilary Clinton, such a thing could happen in 2016. The party and its members need several changes in their tactics and focus if they are to once again capable of winning elections and governing well afterwards.

First, and perhaps most importantly, they need to avoid more fiscal crises like those they have precipitated since taking over the House in 2010. Both in 2011 and 2013, their political brinkmanship in their fights with Obama and Democrats were unpopular with the general electorate. In 2013 this combined with the government shutdown for which the public blamed Republicans to briefly give Democrats an advantage over them on a generic ballot. That advantage has been erased thanks to the brouhaha over Obamacare’s bungled implementation, but with another debt ceiling deadline coming up, Republicans’ approval ratings could easily slip again if the handle it incorrectly. This time, there won’t likely be another Obamacare disaster to make up for that dip. Therefore, Republicans need to pick their fiscal battles carefully and handle them more maturely and quietly than before.

The GOP should also consider backing off its relentless criticism of Obamacare. This is not to say that they cannot or should not campaign against it; it has significant flaws that need to be remedied. However, by the time elections roll around this year, many of the laws effects, both the good and the bad, will be fully felt and the system the law set up will be even more entrenched than it is now. Campaigning on a platform of repealing Obamacare might help Republicans take the Senate, but what would come after that? President Obama would still veto any legislation to repeal his signature accomplishment, and come 2016, the law would be the new status quo. Were a Republican to become president, he or she would find it almost impossibly difficult to repeal the law; a repeal of Obamacare would disproportionately affect low-income voters, a significant portion of which are the minority demographics that Republicans desperately need to shore up their eroding base. Repeal would also do essentially what they criticize Obamacare for doing: distrupting coverage for people that like the health plans they have under the law. Republicans can run against Obamacare by saying it was a bad policy decision and that it needs to be fixed, but to run on repeal would result in either an empty campaign promise or unintended hypocrisy.

Lastly, the party needs to learn to stick together. Before the party can compromise with Democrats in governance, its different factions need to compromise with each other and come together under one banner. As much as the government shutdown/debt ceiling debacle was a very poor decision for Republicans as far as public approval is concerned, they could have gotten more of their demands satisfied if they had all been on the same page as to what they wanted in the continuing resolution and debt ceiling legislation and how they were going to get it. Instead, the party was split between purist conservatives who refused to give an inch in their demands and more moderate, establishment Republicans who merely wanted to avoid doing any more damage to the Republican brand. Somewhere between these two poles lies the balance that the party needs to strike. It can obstruct the legislative process to make sure that it is not left completely out of that process, but at the same time it can’t use that ability to attempt to substitute in its entire agenda. Rather, it can attempt to ensure that some of its more moderate and reasonable demands are met, since those are more likely to be at least accepted by President Obama and Democrats. This way, Republicans can justify obstructionist tactics by using them to accomplish something rather than just to spoil the Democrats’ agenda.

Of course, this is only a general overview of what Republicans can do to ensure that they still have an edge over the Democrats going into the 2014 elections. At this point, the election is theirs to lose, and by taking a more moderate path, the party can ensure that such an eventuality does not come to pass.

[Image credit: http://mooshworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/2014-fireworks.jpg]