Two years ago I spent the night assessing the future prospects of my party, looking at what had just happened and what needed to change in order for – in, hopefully 10 years or so – the GOP
to regain governing power. The first conclusion was easy: in trying to out spend the Democratic Party, you can never win, and if you try you lose your brand identity. The second conclusion was harder to take and also, on November 3, 2010, dead wrong: it would be at least two cycles to gain relevance in the House, and possibly longer.
In the end, this election – like the pay raise ousting of Senate Pro Temps Jubelier and Majority Leader Brightbill in 2006 – demonstrated why I love America and why the system works.
Before anyone accuses me of gloating, I will remind anyone who heard me on WHP that night in 2008 that I started first and foremost by saying that the system worked that night as well: people were fed up, disliked Bush, and wanted a change. They got it.
Consider last night a fairly clear indication of buyers’ remorse. The numbers across the country are astounding – over 60 house seats; at least 6 senate seats and a magic 7th hopefully out there for the taking (more later); at least 7 Governorships; enormous gains nationally in state houses – I could do this all day (and probably will).
Over the last two cycles, the people have sent a very clear message: stop blowing through cash like Paris Hilton on a bender.
Think about the progression the country – and especially the fiscally modest Midwestern mentality in particular – has witnessed. Clinton was handed an economy set up to succeed, a government with important caps on discretionary spending (Bush 41’s deal when he committed political suicide on the tax increase), and eventually a surplus – but all the while he steadily increased spending. Then Bush 43, a supposed conservative who campaigned against the excess of the Clinton years, saw his increase and doubled it.
After 8 years of alleged fiscal “conservatism,” President Obama used the public’s fear about the state of the economy and the deficit to get elected, then turned around and doubled 43’s number. Last night he found out what people thought about that plan.
The fact is last night was first and foremost about spending. There is no question, no doubt, no way to argue it – to steal from the ragin’ Cajin, “It’s the economy stupid.”
Now, before all of the folk married to a specific interpretation scream at me, keep in mind that when I say the economy the average voter is thinking about all of those issues. In spite of the President’s certainty that we are just too scared to see the wisdom of his ways, the voters clearly understood what was happening: healthcare, cap and trade, takeovers and stimuli are all exploding the national debt. And they don’t like it.
The vote yesterday was for a partial repeal of Obamacare – with some modest reforms left. It was against cap and trade – a clear majority of US Senators now oppose it. It was against bailouts and stimuli. It was, very clearly, a vote for a return to some sense of fiscal sanity.
The rebuke was this time sent to the Democrats. It has in succession been set to both parties and now the question becomes “who gets it first?”
The GOP has a chance to stake out moderate ground over the next 2 years. The President can’t pass a budget without them, they have a much, much stronger hand in the Senate (with Murkowski a likely GOP caucus member, and Ben Nelson, Joe Manchin and Joe Liebermen the GOP can build consensus on some key issues to force vetoes or make changes), and, for the moment, they have momentum.
But even more so the President has an opportunity – if he takes it – to move to the center. And if he does, he has the bully pulpit to make his moves more significant and capture the public’s attention. He is, after all, an attractive figure who delivers a very persuasive speech. And he can – bluntly – look to his left flank and almost ignore it. They can do nothing for him now and even if they get mad they will never abandon him.
If he does move away, he can do so with effectiveness fast. Assuming he will defend Obamacare to the last, there are still places to give ground that will strengthen his hand. The easiest is to extend all of the tax cuts for 2-4 years, an overwhelmingly popular idea. He can take cap and trade off the table. And, once and for all, we can end massive stimuli and bailouts. In the end, he couldn’t get one passed anyway, so the smart move would be to acknowledge the people’s message and take credit for something that is inevitable anyway.
The next few weeks will be critical to the future of Obama’s presidency. Just 24 months away from his coronation in Hyde park his political power in Washington is in tatters, his party is now in the minority at every level of Government outside of Washington, and his prospects for 2012 have never looked worse.
In a similar spot, Bill Clinton pivoted and won re-election. Clinton had by many accounts one
of the more successful Presidencies over the last 100 years. He heard the people and responded.
If President Obama fails to do the same, the comparisons to Carter will only increase when he loses in a landslide two years hence.
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