Republicans continue to lack any strategy for winning the November elections beyond avoiding mistakes and hoping that President Obama’s unpopularity, especially in key states, delivers control of the Senate to them. It must be said that the party has executed this passive count-on-a-wave strategy fairly well, selecting presentable and sometimes admirable candidates. The strategy could even work. But it will not maximize the Republican opportunity, because it does nothing to dispel the public’s justifiable doubts about whether Republican rule would be good for the country.
Too many Republicans are running on the promise that they will “check” the president in some unspecified way. They are running as people who dislike Obamacare but have no plans to replace or alter it. But there are persuadable voters who worry that they will lose their health coverage if Republicans get their way, and ones who worry that Republicans will settle for Obamacare Lite. By keeping their plans on health care (and everything else) vague, Republicans are asking these voters to trust them. Yet the polls consistently show that the party does not have a lot of trust on which to rely.
Obamacare, and the dismal approach to governance for which it stands, should be the central issues of the campaign. Republicans are shying away from making it the issue not because the program has become more popular — it has not — but because they are not sure what to advocate in its place as it grows entrenched. What they ought to be saying is that they will replace it with something along the lines of the legislation that Senators Coburn, Burr, and Hatch have proposed. Their plan would repeal the individual mandate, the exchanges, the Medicare rationing board, the essential-benefits package, the new taxes, and the rest of it, instead giving everyone a tax credit that could be used to buy at least catastrophic coverage (and usually more). Then candidates could promise to replace Obamacare with more credibility, while also reassuring people that repeal would not mean returning to the also-flawed health system we had before it.
Health care is of course not the only issue where Republicans should break from their lassitude. With the exception of Tom Cotton in Arkansas, how many candidates are pledging to reverse the dangerous drawdown in our defense capabilities? Who besides Ben Sasse of Nebraska is talking about breaking the higher-education cartel? In Iowa, in Michigan, in North Carolina, in Kentucky, voters would like to see a tax code that is better for growth and better for families. But they won’t see that desire as relevant to their voting choices unless someone makes the case that it is.
The party is not going to do any of this corporately, so individual candidates should step up. They don’t have to be merely the object of trends in the polls, hostage to events in D.C. and abroad that they cannot affect, coasting along like flotsam on a wave. They can be the captains of their own fate, and tell voters they can as well.