September 30, 2013

Let’s suppose Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli II loses in Virginia and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) gets nothing (or causes a shutdown or default and then gets nothing). These events are entirely likely given the way things are going. Where would that leave the GOP?

Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

In the long run, it might be the best thing for Republicans, providing a pair of lessons sufficiently ahead of critical elections as to scald but not incinerate the party.

Should Cuccinelli go down to defeat with a large gender gap, there will be plenty of recriminations. Insiders who are too conservative for the state blew it with a closed convention. You can’t run candidates as combative and right-wing as Cuccinelli outside deep-red states. Even the worst Democratic candidates can beat angry white male Republicans. In short, the complaint that tone deaf right-wingers are leading the party to ruin will be underscored. There is nothing like the ballot box to shatter the echo chamber.

At the national level, Republican hardliners like Cruz can’t “win” the Obamacare fight because they have never and still don’t have the votes to defund it. They have defined defunding as victory and what falls short will not be one, by their own terms. They might escape blame for a huge mess by a last-minute deal to prevent a shutdown. They might throw the House into disarray and cause a shutdown, earning admiration from the shrinking core of true believers and the enmity of most voters. But “win” in the legislative sense is virtually impossible.

As it becomes clear that Cruz and his band of right-wing media fans have adopted a losing strategy that also angers a great many voters, there is an opportunity for those who fear the GOP is going off the cliff. Maybe the band of Senate Republicans who voted for cloture last week had it right all along; maybe it is not they but the likes of Jim DeMint who have let down the party.

A sound Cruz and/or Cuccinelli defeat may be a boost to anti-Cruz-Republicans in the 2014 primaries who can vow if elected to get some real wins, not merely more symbolic losses. It may also scare donors and mainstream Republicans into action as they see their 2014 prospects declining. And it may emphasize once again that taking advice from Heritage Action is a political death sentence. If the lesson causes the party to make a better choice for its 2016 nominee, it will have been worth it.

A complete Washington breakdown may also push voters, even in the GOP primaries, away from the Beltway showboaters in favor of more pragmatic and sober governors.

Sure the press will have a field day proclaiming the death of the GOP if Cruz and Cuccinelli strike out. Sure the inside-the-Beltway Republicans will take a hit, either because they encouraged Cruz or because they lacked the strength to stop him. And sure the president will look good in comparison. Nevertheless, it’s not as bad as losing the House, frittering away a Senate majority or losing the White House — all of which may happen if the GOP keeps living up to its stereotype.

Sometimes only a clear thumping is able to deliver a message to people convinced of their own wonderfulness. Only then can real course adjustments take place and an alternative set of leaders rise to repair a sinking ship. And for the GOP specifically, it is far better to have a reckoning now than in 2014, or when it is too late to avoid another presidential election debacle.

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