But there are a couple of breaks with past political practice that we might consider after this loss. First, while everyone is calculating political tactics for future election cycles and contemplating whether and how to handle immigration, abortion, and other wedge issues, few people seem to be taking account of a troubling fact: Romney ran well ahead of many losing GOP Senate candidates in red states such as Montana and North Dakota. It is not sufficient to say that the remedy is “better candidates,” though this was surely true in Missouri and Indiana. The disconnection of presidential campaigns from congressional races, and the single-minded focus on the ten battleground states to the exclusion of the other 40, is eroding the kind of rightful partisanship that is necessary for significant transformative governance in the future. Given that Romney’s chances of repealing Obamacare depended on a GOP Senate majority, Romney should have — future GOP nominees please take note — made time for campaign stops with embattled GOP Senate nominees in red states. A few joint TV spots are good, but a more forceful message that asks voters to make a clear partisan choice is better, such as: “I can’t succeed as your president, Montana, unless you send Denny Rehberg to Washington to help me.” It is political malpractice for the party nominee to neglect the congressional races. (And it is the deliberate genius of modern liberalism to drive this wedge between executive and congressional campaigns, but that’s a long subject for another day.)
Second and more immediately, the approach of the “fiscal cliff” in a few weeks ought to be regarded as a big opportunity for boldness rather than a narrow window for a defensive compromise. News reports indicate that Obama is settling in for a long slog on taxes and spending. So here’s an idea: The House GOP should call the Obama-Krugman bluff — of letting us go over the fiscal cliff on January 1 — by passing a sweeping, pro-growth tax-reform package right now, and sending it to the Senate, coupled with an announcement that it is not going along with tax increases for anyone unless taxes increase for everyone. The House GOP could even just pass Simpson-Bowles, and rightly say they are passing the plan President Obama’s own commission recommended. The House should be prepared to let all the Bush tax cuts expire, which will expose the liberal fiction that they helped only “the rich.” (The tax increase will happen without a vote to increase taxes, so Republicans will be able to pursue this strategy without violating their no-tax-increase pledges.) It will all be on Obama and Senate Democrats. If Speaker John Boehner is serious that the House GOP has just as much of a mandate as the president, then this is the time to act on it.
A final point is that even conservatives of pessimistic bent ought to orient themselves according to a fragment from T. S. Eliot that longtime National Review contributor (and happy pessimist) Russell Kirk liked to quote in these pages:
If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that anything will triumph.
– Mr. Hayward is the Thomas W. Smith Distinguished Fellow at the Ashbrook Center and the author of the two-volume political biography The Age of Reagan.