The Republican strategy for 2014, as far as we can tell, is to count on the unpopularity of President Obama and Obamacare, particularly in the red states where most Senate races are taking place, to deliver election victories. All Republicans have to do is avoid mistakes: Don’t nominate the wrong candidate; don’t bring up issues that distract from the failures of Obamacare. When Democrats raise other issues, indeed, say that they are trying to distract voters from those failures and move back to pounding Obamacare.
This type of thinking is one of the reasons Republicans have not gotten on board with something like Senator Coburn’s plan to replace Obamacare, or Senator Lee’s tax-reform proposal, or Senator Thune’s job-creation agenda.
The “avoid mistakes” strategy seems to us to be itself a mistake to be avoided. It is probably a mistake, first of all, with respect to this year’s elections. Voters expect officeholders to be conversant with the broad range of issues. They have lost faith in Democratic ideas without gaining confidence in Republicans. They may not pore over the details of a candidate’s platform — that’s the refrain one always hears from Republicans who argue against ideas in the name of realism — but they would like to think that a candidate will try to accomplish things that will make a difference for the nation.
And it counsels, as well, in favor of advancing conservative solutions across a wide range of issues. Republicans should make the case against Obamacare every day — but part of that case has to be an explanation that there is a better way to address the concerns people rightly have about health care. They should vote against raising the minimum wage, but also talk about how cutting the cost of energy, health care, and taxes will raise living standards. Even issues that do not have an immediate impact on most people can help to establish a valuable reputation for the party as energetic and solution-oriented. Reversing the defense drawdown, slashing corporate welfare, unwinding Fannie and Freddie: There is no shortage of policies for candidates to discuss.
The current Republican passivity on policy ill serves the party’s objectives after 2014 as well. If Republicans take the Senate as well as the House, they will need to send popular conservative legislation to Obama — ideally to be signed, but more likely to be vetoed. That legislation will be taken up by the Republican presidential nominee, and those vetoes will serve to set up the 2016-election contrast. If Republicans do well in 2016, they will also set up the governing agenda for 2017.
If they do not think through and advance conservative ideas now, though, they will not know what to do in the event that they have control of Capitol Hill — and will instead react to ill-considered proposals from their allies and opponents alike, and hand Democrats opportunities of their own.
There is no point to Republicans’ setting any goal lower than the creation of a new majority that will govern more constructively, and more conservatively, than the last Republican majority did. Republicans ought to start building the case for conservative governance of our country now, this spring, today.