Republicans are pleased with themselves these days. The president is mired in scandals while the public does not believe they have overreached. A bunch of veteran Senate Democrats have retired, making possible a flip in Senate control. And the GOP’s strongest leaders (such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie) are riding high in the polls. They have stymied the president’s spending ambitions and allowed only a tiny slice of the Bush tax cuts to expire.
Yet overconfidence is dangerous, and there are grounds for concern:
1. Immigration reform fails: Failure goes beyond a defeat for Rubio (a potential presidential candidate), beyond another round of blame-the-Republicans and beyond yet another opportunity to broaden the party’s appeal. It would be the triumph of Malthusians (more people = scarcity) over the optimistic, pro-growth vision that has propelled the party for the last 30 years.
2. Crackpottery prevails on national security: Between ludicrous misrepresentations (e.g. the government is listening to your phone calls, the National Security Agency programs lacked oversight) and a refusal to recognize that our success in connecting the dots is the most important prevention technique we have, otherwise thoughtful Republicans sound like Sarah Palin (we’re “becoming a totalitarian surveillance state”). Stop. Think. Make sure you’ve got the facts. Before opining on the Fourth Amendment, learn what it covers and what it doesn’t.
3. They run only on scandals: Sure, the GOP might pick up a few seats in the House and Senate here and there (mostly because Democrats are down in the dumps) in 2014, but it probably won’t be enough to take the Senate and it surely won’t give Republicans a mandate or a chance to explain to the voters what they are for, not merely that the Obama folk are up to no good.
4. They remain fixated on the budget and tax reform: How do I put this? It isn’t happening. Move on. The president has made clear the price for everything is a tax hike, which is horrid for the anemic economy and a political non-starter. There is plenty out there to move onto that can play to the GOP strengths — energy development, an Obamacare alternative, real school reform, regulatory reform (to lessen the burdens on small and mid-sized businesses) etc.
5. They become paranoid grouches: Between the “NSA is reading your e-mails” to thundering at fellow conservatives who understand immigration is the lifeblood of America, they are displaying few happy warriors these days. Yes, things are rotten (from their perspective because of Obama policies), but they can be better.
6. They choose poor candidates again in 2014: Enough said.
7. They run to the left of President Obama on foreign policy: Our half-hearted effort on Syria, Iran’s progress on nuclear weapons and China’s cyberterrorism are arguments for decisive, early action by the United States to help allies (or potential allies) and keep foes in check.
8. They neglect to spell out what plan they’d substitute for Obamacare: If they run on the impending disaster that awaits (and has already occurred) with the implementation of Obamacare, they will need to assure the public there is an alternative — one that provides better health care and lives up to the “affordable” promise of the Affordable Care Act.
9. They savage and undermine House Speaker John Boehner: When they have cut the legs out from under him, they’ve wound up with worse legislation (the Budget Control Act, voting against Plan B in the fiscal-cliff debate). When they have been united (such as on the sequester) they have been effective.
10. They pay more attention to right-wing pundits and fear-mongers than to voters: Even Republican voters are more flexible and want more effective government than you’d think from reading right-wing blogs or listening to the loudest talk-show hosts. Lawmakers who are guided by such voices wind up out of sync with their constituents. Turn off the radio, get off Twitter and go talk to lots and lots of constituents. Lawmakers have better electoral success and will legislate more intelligently.