The Republican Party was down-and-out when President Obama was elected in 2008. The Democrats had the Senate and the House locked up and subsequently put two lifetime appointments on the Supreme Court. Due to the activism of the “tea party,” a loose confederation of liberty-loving Americans, however, the paddles were brought out and life was shocked back into the GOP. The relentless energy and dedication of the base helped the party sweep to victory in the 2010 mid-term elections.
What lessons will the GOP establishment take away from this unmistakable win? The GOP is reportedly seeking to exert more influence in the 2014 primaries than it did in the disastrous 2012 ones. One way to read this is that the party thinks the status quo is acceptable. Another way is to acknowledge that nearly Democrat-picked candidates like Todd Akin wound up smearing the entire GOP brand and never should have seen the light of day.
As seen from the halls of power, the problem is that Republican voters think it’s OK to replace incumbent senators and congressman who don’t represent the views of their constituents. In 2012, for example, Republican voters in Indiana dumped longtime Sen. Richard Lugar in a primary battle.
This infuriated establishment Republicans for two reasons. First, because they liked Lugar and the way he worked. Second, because the replacement candidate was flawed and allowed Democrats to win what should have been a safe Republican seat.
So, according to Politico, the Washington team is gearing up a new effort to protect incumbents and limit the ability of Republican voters to successfully challenge establishment candidates.
The resounding victory in the 2010 national elections should teach the GOP something. Prior to that election, Americans turned out in droves to show their support for once-mainstream ideas as Constitutionally limited government, reduced government spending, and the repeal of Obamacare.
Left-wing observers snarked that this could not have been a grassroots movement, and that the angry white people must be a bunch of racist malcontents or astroturfed political operatives. Republicans not only captured the House of Representatives, but GOP governorships and state legislatures across the country in a complete route.
The swatdown of the Obama agenda was short-lived, as legacy president George W. Bush had appointed a Chief Justice who apparently doesn’t grasp the difference between a tax and a penalty. In the Obamacare ruling, the Supreme Court effectively announced that Washington politicians can tax citizens not only for everything that they do, but for everything that they don’t do.
The Obamacare debacle understandably angers some citizens, and the party leadership needs to get its arms around that. At the same time, it needs to make reasonable arguments on policy. This is not an enviable position. But it is important for all sides to note that passion and anger do not equate to being unreasonable. People can be reasonably infuriated about policies that infringe on their rights or needlessly damage their quality of life.
The conservative base is filled with people who want the government to get real about cutting spending. But raising taxes forty times what is cut in spending and then drawing a line in the sand by asking for dollar-to-dollar matching in taxes for spending cuts hardly smacks of serious political opposition. This has created a rift in the Republican Party.
If the Republican Party wants to restore the party vibrance that allows it to have any say in current affairs, it should be reasonable while showing respect for outraged conservatives and libertarians. If two-thirds of Republicans believe the party leadership has lost touch with the base, the solution isn’t to “stay stuck on stupid.” The way for the GOP to move forward is to modernize, listen, reach out to voters, and mobilize.
Follow Kyle Becker on Twitter @rogue1776