A way back for the GOP
The Republican Party is running low on public approval. But it’s not lacking in advice — much of it unsolicited — on how to bounce back from its federal-shutdown and debt-ceiling fiascoes.
Even President Barack Obama offered this suggestion to his political opposition last Thursday after Congress passed a compromise bill that broke those impasses 16 days after the shutdown began — and mere hours before the deadline to raise the debt limit:
“You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election.”
Fair enough. Mr. Obama, after all, has won two presidential elections. And his party has won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections.
But before dismissing the GOP as a spent political force, remember that it regained control of the U.S. House in 2010 and retained it in 2012.
Consider also that while there were only 23 Republican governors when Mr. Obama became president, there are now 30. Another upward GOP trend: When Mr. Obama first took the presidential oath, Democrats controlled 27 state legislatures to only 14 for Republicans. Today Republicans have a 28-17 lead in that grass-roots category.
Of course, those GOP advantages on the state level can’t erase the Democrats’ continuing control of the White House and Senate. And that Washington numbers game inevitably doomed the Republican House’s misguided quest to “defund” the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
No, it wasn’t unconstitutional for GOP lawmakers to demand budgetary input.
Yet it was unwise to trigger those futile shutdown and debt-ceiling fights from a position of legislative weakness.
That divisive spectacle, driven by Tea Party excess, also was a distraction from the revealing mess of the Obamacare rollout that began on Oct. 1.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., made that point again Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” offering this blunt post-mortem on his party’s latest public-relations blunder:
“It’s a wake-up call. Conservatism is an asset to the Republican Party. We’re a right of center nation. We’re not a right ditch nation. I think we’ve learned that this was a political gift to the president by the Republican Party at a time he needed it the most. The tactic of defunding the government, unless he repealed his signature issue, was as poorly designed as Obamacare itself — almost.”
Yet Sen. Graham was the only South Carolina Republican in Congress to vote for the legislation that stopped the GOP’s self-inflicted bleeding. Sen. Tim Scott and all six Republican House members from our state voted against it.
Sure, it’s a continuing shame that Congress keeps ducking its duty to make specific budgetary decisions. Instead, it has gotten into the irresponsible habit of simply passing one continuing resolution after another based on previous spending levels.
Meanwhile, the hard calls needed to save Medicare and Social Security keep getting postponed, making those overdue choices increasingly difficult with every passing year.
Entitlement reform, as the defining fiscal challenge of our time, should be the GOP’s focus as it looks for a way to climb back up from its dismal poll standing in the wake of the shutdown mess.
While Sen. Graham correctly criticized some fellow Republicans Sunday, he also fairly faulted the president for being “virtually AWOL” and refusing to negotiate spending cuts during the debt-ceiling fight.
And as Sen. Graham put it: “The good news for the Republican Party is that the debacle is over if we don’t do it again, and Obamacare is a continuing debacle.”
Even better news would be if Republicans — and Democrats — stopped lurching from one fiscal crisis to the next while dodging the tough decisions they were elected to make.