Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Into the Wilderness
Connecticut Republicans got housed last night (no pun intended), perhaps even more solidly than federal Republicans. Jodi Rell, the incumbent Republican Governor won with 63% of the vote. The good news pretty much ends there. While they already had a veto-proof majority in the Senate, Democrats needed only a handful of seats in the House to earn a bicameral veto-proof majority. Though the final results are not yet out, it looks like they did it. So, the Republican Governor, overwhelmingly supported by the people of her state, is now nothing but a figurehead.

She literally cannot control anything that goes on in Hartford. Any veto she casts (and I expect there will be a lot) will be immediately overturned by the legislature.

It's not going to be a pretty two years. I think this is a disaster for the state of Connecticut. I hope the Democrats will govern maturely, but I'm not optimistic. I pray that they prove me wrong.

If they don't, I intend to spend the next two years of my life pointing out why they need to lose their supermajority. I don't know that I will argue for a Republican majority (they have to earn that, too), but at the very least I know that I cannot abide the elimination of the executive branch of Connecticut government. This state could change a lot in the next two years.

But that's nothing compared to what we saw nationally last night.
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On the federal level, as everybody knows, the outcome was nearly as bad for Republicans. My prediction of 14 and 2 was obviously way off.

What remains unclear, however, is the result for the country.

I think that the truth is mixed, as there are two issues at play. The first is the behavior of the Democrats now that they've reestablished some level of power. Will we see the results of "the Plan" that we've heard so much about (but never seen)? Or will we see something else? Will Nancy Pelosi's words prove to be prophetic as she hands over the Speaker's gavel to a bunch of petulant children? Can we expect impeachment hearings? Will we hear complaints that they can't be expected to do anything with only one house of Congress?

Or will they surprise us? I certainly hope they do on some level. Many of the freshmen are more conservative than the current leadership of the Democratic Party, and it's very possible that we'll see a revolt towards moderation from within their ranks. Again, I'm not terribly optimistic.

So, the question then, is what will federal Republicans do to redeem themselves over the next two years?
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I think it has to start next week.

Republicans over the next two years are going to have show themselves to be statesmen. They need to turn to the American people and say "we hear you, and we've learned our lesson." What is that lesson? No, it's not Iraq. Iraq is a part of it, but not the whole thing.

It's spending. It's government growth. It's corruption. It's immigration. It's an utter failure to communicate with the public. It's defecits. And yes, it's mismanagement of the war. Overall, it is a violation of the principles that brought the Republicans to power in 1994. It's a violation of Goldwater and Reagan conservatism.

Congressman Mike Pence said it incredibly well (via InstaPundit):

Some will argue that we lost our majority because of scandals at home and challenges abroad. I say, we did not just lose our majority, we lost our way.

While the scandals of the 109th Congress harmed our cause, the greatest scandal in Washington, D.C. is runaway federal spending.

After 1994, we were a majority committed to balanced federal budgets, entitlement reform and advancing the principles of limited government. In recent years, our majority voted to expand the federal government's role in education, entitlements and pursued spending policies that created record deficits and national debt.

This was not in the Contract with America and Republican voters said, 'enough is enough.

Our opponents will say that the American people rejected our Republican vision. I say the American people didn't quit on the Contract with America, we did. And in so doing, we severed the bonds of trust between our party and millions of our most ardent supporters.

As the 110th Congress convenes next year, Republicans must cordially accept defeat and dedicate ourselves to advancing our cause as the loyal opposition knowing that the only way to retake our natural, governing majority, is to renew our commitment to limited government, national defense, traditional values and reform.
So, as I said, this trend needs to be reversed. And it cannot be accomplished by raging at the Democrats, or holding press conferences about how we need a new direction, or there are two Americas, or that the House leadership is incompetent, or cracking jokes about the intelligence of Speaker Pelosi. If they do any of this, I will rail against them. If they filibuster, I will rail against them. If they start moaning and whining about being out of power, I will rail against them. I tell you this now as a promise—I will not condone Republicans who partake of any of the behaviors that made the Democrats so frustrating over the past six years. You can hold me to it—but you won't need to.

So how can the Republican Party reverse their fortunes in two years? Primarily, they need to be gracious losers. They need to be prepared for the Democrats to act like sore winners, and they need to allow the Democrats to make asses of themselves—not look for opportunities to do it for them. They need to be statesmen before they are politicians. They need to craft clear alternatives to anything the Democrats propose, and release it directly to the public. Bush needs to sharpen his veto quill, and clearly explain why he rejects each and every bill that he does.

They need to hone their skills so that two years from now they can clearly say "we've learned our lesson, we've shown you how we would have run things differently, and we've behaved with the class necessary to prove it."
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So how can they get started on this next week, as I suggested?

It's easy and tempting to wait until January, when Congress changes hands. But why wait? Republicans haven't been misbehaving as the minority, they have been misbehaving as the majority. So why not demonstrate that they have learned their lesson while they are still in the majority?

Call a lame duck session.

Now, lame duck Congresses typically try to ram through some key piece of their legislative agenda that they didn't have the balls to try while their elections were on the line. Once they're freed up by the end of election season (and even more so if they are about to lose power), they will act more brazenly.

So why not try something new?

Call Congress back to debate one measure. I do not know what that measure is, but make it something big, and make it something simple. Make it something to clean Congress up, to restrict their spending, their corruption, their abuses of power, whatever. Make it clear that this is not an attempt to pull a fast one before they lose control, but rather an attempt to rise above partisanship. Do not strike out at the Dems and say "hah, we'll show you!" Turn instead to the American people and say "We're sorry. Let us do what we can to account for our sinful ways while we still have the ability."

In short, do the right thing.

And it will help them in the long run! Imagine if they have just such a shining example of leadership, of restraint, of maturity to point to in two years. Particularly imagine if the Dems run wild for any part of those two years. Republican candidates will be able to hold their heads high and say:
You repudiated our behavior, and we heard you. We immediately changed our ways and showed you what we want to do, how we want to improve this country. We have maintained those principles for two years. We have not raced to the bottom as the Democrats did while they were out of power—and as both parties did while they were in power. We are the party of reason, the party of rational restraint, the party of liberty. We are not the party we were two years ago, nor do we ever intend to return to those days. We are working for your benefit, and we hope that you will give us your trust once again. We hope we've shown you how great this nation can be, how high a level of discourse we can maintain. Now let us set the standard as a majority. We will not let you down.
There's no way they could lose after two years like that. Even if the Democrats adapt to raise the level of debate and the Republicans fail to retake the House, we will be better off as a nation. How can you go wrong?

This kind of behavior would make me proud to be a Republican again.
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Do I think this will happen? Of course not.

What's the first move of the Bush White House? A wave of the white flag through Rumsfeld. Their communication? That the election was about the war in Iraq. And only the war in Iraq.

As an aside: I think Iraq had a significant bearing on this election—but it's not nearly that simple, and getting rid of Rummy isn't even going to fix that single facet of the Republicans' problems. But either W, or his people seem to think that it will.

This is just one more in a long line of signs that the intellectual capacity of the White House is severely lacking. Rove may be a brilliant grand strategerer (sic), but either he isn't paying attention to or has no understanding of day-to-day tactics. The volume of serious errors coming out of this White House is unbelievable. They may not boil as high as John Kerry's "the troops are dumb" slip and the follow-on raging press release/press conference responses—but they far out-number them. Rumsfeld is one example. Bush's confession that he "thought we were going to do fine yesterday." is another. That's just one day!

They aren't communicating, and they don't show any signs that they understand their failure to communicate.

So no, I don't think Bush has anyone around him right now who will see the opportunities presented by such a simple act. And if someone does proclaim the virtues of a lame duck Congress, it will be for partisan motivations.

I likewise lack faith that Bush will have the guts—or the smarts—to start using his veto power. I doubt that Republicans will be able to moderate their tone for two years. I think they will snipe and be petulant.

I think we're in for a rough two years that could be so easily avoided. God help us.

At the very least, maybe putting the Republicans outside for a little while will do them some good. Maybe they will understand that libertarian-minded (i.e. socially liberal, fiscally conservative) Republicans like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jodi Rell win, while Republicans of all other stripes lose.

As Mark Tapscott sums it up with total brevity: "When Republicans worry more about staying in government than about limiting government, they get thrown out of government."

I'll have more thoughts on this election in the days and weeks to come, I'm sure. In particular, I have a lot more to say about the Connecticut races and those in my home town. Keep checking back for more, of course.

UPDATE [11/8/2006 - 22:09]: If I'd had internet access while I wrote this post, I most likely would have read Dean Barnett's thoughts before writing my own. What he says is similar, and probably more coherent. Read the whole thing, as they say.

UPDATE [11/9/2006 - 13:57] George Will offers another road back from this wilderness, pointing out that the political market has acted like any free market, forcing the Democrats to accept some policies in order to retake power, and repudiating Republicans for refusing to supply what was in demand.

And Dick Armey provides his take on how we got to where we are, and how Republicans can get back to representing their core constituency:
Eventually, the policy innovators and the 'Spirit of '94' were largely replaced by political bureaucrats driven by a narrow vision. Their question became: How do we hold onto political power? The aberrant behavior and scandals that ended up defining the Republican majority in 2006 were a direct consequence of this shift in choice criteria from policy to political power. [...]

Moving forward, my advice to Republicans is simple: Don't go back and check on a dead skunk. The question Republicans now need to answer is: How do we once again convince the public that we are in fact the party many Democrats successfully pretended to be in this election? To do so, Republicans will need to shed their dominant insecurities that the public just won't understand a positive, national vision that is defined by economic opportunity, limited government and individual responsibility.
Read both.

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