There is no dispute between right and left today. President Obama’s speech was neither moderate nor conciliatory. It was a liberal call for big government and a rejection of the idea that serious reform of entitlement programs is required. Those liberals who were certain Obama would move to the center in the second term — or if they didn’t, told us they were certain anyway — are no doubt elated he is instead heading left. It is no wonder the president wouldn’t run on any substance; a campaign based on a leftward lurch would have been a fiasco. It was better to conceal second term intentions and just destroy the opposition.

Reince Priebus
Reince Priebus in January 2011, after winning election as Republican National Committee chairman (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

But the president’s lurch is good news for the Republican Party as well. In 2009 the GOP held its collective breathe, nervous that Obama might pursue a pro-growth, centrist approach, thereby pushing the GOP to the far end of the political spectrum. Instead he pushed a stimulus and health-care “reform” and got shellacked in 2010. The same is evident here. If the president really wants only more government, higher taxes and international retreat the Republican can unify in common determination to keep the country from sliding much farther to the left. Whatever differences they may have, they are united in a common interest in stopping debt, spending and the liberal welfare state from expanding even further.

Let me be clear: If the government has to operate for four more years on continuing resolutions in order to prevent a giant tax hike and a further explosion in our debt, then so be it. Certainly House Republicans should present all their alternatives — on spending, on entitlement and tax reform — but rather than shut down the government (another loser for the right and the precursor to a retreat) they should simply keep spending flat. That, considering the president’s huge ambitions, would be a major accomplishment.

The party of no? Well, no to Obama’s collectivist vision. The challenge now for conservatives is to come up with a center-right agenda that makes sense and that will persuade off-year election voters to keep the House in their hands and deliver the Senate. To do the latter the GOP will need to make smart, practical choices in candidates. Every Akin or Mourdock nominated is another vote for Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Democrats’ continued control of the Senate.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.