“Because every time you see them happy you remember how sad they’re going to be. And it breaks your heart. Because what’s the point in them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later. The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later.” –The Eleventh Doctor
I was happy on Election Day. I’ve been positively elated all week, in fact, as it’s been a good time to be a Florida Republican. After all, the Gators devoured the playoff hopes of Georgia in a cathartically stunning upset on Saturday, and then our governor rallied to defeat Alcibiades Charlie Crist in a race that many suggested was lost. As a Republican in general, our candidates won the “War on Women” from Texas to Colorado, and we’ve grown and diversified our bench so enormously in the blue and purple states as to allow, as several have put it, for the GOP to essentially be America’s governing party (in the literal sense that Republicans will be doing most of the governing).
But amid all the anguish and mythomane ire arising from the emaciated dreaming of the other side, a progressive friend demanded perspective via a Yahoo article posted on Facebook. To be sure, the author’s liberal 2016 analysis is rather bullish on Democratic chances; it’s not particularly likely, for example, that a depleted Florida Democratic bench will knock off a popular GOP incumbent in a state Obama barely won. And his point about minorities skipping the midterm is belied by the evidence that 2014 featured the second-most diverse electorate in American history (ahead of 2008), and Republicans from Virginia to Nevada simply did better among various segments of minority voters.
Still, the author’s basic point, that Republicans will face daunting odds in 2016, is well taken. Indeed, I have been talking about that very concern with my tea-partying boyfriend and our conservative cohorts since Heidi Heitkamp kept the Big Sky blue in 2012. It was a reason why it was so essential for Republicans to run up the Senate score this cycle, so as to allow for as much cushion as possible ahead of the next one. (For this reason, the collapse of Terri Lynn Land in Michigan and ultimate failure of Scott Brown and Ed Gillespie to add a 55th seat makes already for bitter reflection.) Yet, oddly enough, acknowledging and contemplating the presidential-year challenges in the offing can and should afford us a curious sense of peace.
We are living on borrowed time. Every Christian—and probably many a Jew or Muslim—hears permutations of this truth from the pulpit with urgent frequency. Such grounding Solomonic perspective—that none of this will last—is an essential understanding for seeking proper order in life, and it is likewise vital a perspective for seeking proper order in politics. As former Indiana congressman and current Club for Growth president Chris Chocola noted, Democrats have poignantly demonstrated a capacity for this perspective. They made the conscientious decision that healthcare reform, among other things, was worth sacrificing their majority to the cleansing tsunami of public indignation, and we are all suffering the consequences of that fanatical conviction today.
If there is anything Republicans should learn from progressives like Nancy Pelosi (and there isn’t much), it’s that at some point you have to stop running for the next election and resolve to actually enact an agenda. Obviously, the Democratic Party will retain the White House through the duration of this Congress, and the number of moderate Democrats who can be relied upon to seek compromise has taken a hit. But for the governing party, those ought to be challenges to be met, not excuses to be doled out ahead of a perpetual chase for the next election.
That 2016 is a probable no-win game for Republican candidates is all the more reason to change the game. Conservatives have two years to develop and refine a robust governing agenda that we can take to voters for consideration. We have promising goals we can seek with President Obama on broad-based, revenue-neutral tax reform, trade negotiations, and mitigating the worst excesses of Obamacare. We also have places where Democrats will refuse to support better policy proposals that might enrage the far Left; some will be useful to enact in the many states we control, ahead of a national referendum on our functional ideas.
Over at National Review, Yuval Levin puts it this way:
“To do that well, Republicans will need to understand and to describe their efforts in these terms—to be clear that they are working to set the right agenda rather than that they are trying either to ‘prove they can govern’ from Congress alone or to ‘sketch clear contrasts’ with a president who will never be on the ballot again. Understanding their role as putting forward an agenda and pursuing it would help Republicans do both of those things while helping them avoid unrealistic expectations about either.
The key difference between the divided congress we have had and the divided government we will now have is that Republicans can now set the agenda, require Democrats to vote on the best of their ideas, and see which of them Democrats might agree with enough (or find painful enough to oppose) to actually bring them to fruition. That doesn’t mean that lots of Republican ideas get enacted, or even reach the president. The filibuster will prevent that. It means, rather, that those ideas get killed in Senate votes instead of getting killed by the Senate’s unwillingness to vote. And that’s a significant difference, because it puts both Republicans and (for the first time) Democrats on the record in a meaningful way.”
Ed Gillespie took this mindset to heart when he combined aggressive organizing and campaign discipline with the critical decision to present voters an intelligible vision of better leadership. Facing a daunting challenge that many in his own party (me included, though I did make sure to vote for him) considered essentially stillborn, the Virginia Republican was one of the few candidates on either side to present a detailed healthcare proposal that would offer better outcomes than Obamacare, along with a five-point economic plan for growth. For all this, the grossly underfunded challenger came within a point of slaying a Goliath in a race he was supposed to lose by a double-digit margin.
Whether or not we’re able to hold the Senate in 2016, our focus should be highlighting, selling, and, achieving the conservative victories that we can while we can. The conservative movement has no use for majorities that exist in perpetual obeisance to the continual, pusillanimous pursuit of electoral power for its own sake. Even if we do everything right, we might well encounter a measure of defeat in two years, because the map is simply not in our favor. But rather than fretting over what we cannot change, we should thoroughly embrace the challenge before us for the opportunity that it is. It is with such a spirit that conservative leaders like Scott Walker, Rick Scott, and Rick Snyder fought the odds for worthwhile reforms that would endure even if their tenures in office were cut short. That such leaders survived to fight another day should not undercut the key lesson of their examples—fight for conservative governance, and leave something valuable that will politically outlive you.
For the next two years, we can either play to win big or fade into the reclining opposition-party battles of the Obama years. I, for one, am happy now because we may again know frustration, disappointment and presidential petulance later. But if this cycle has shown us anything, it’s that nothing is inevitable or settled until all the votes are cast.