Now that Republicans have won the election war, the real work begins: the cleanup. As with any war, this is the tedious part. In these next two years there are no more glorious battles to be won, just a lot of grunt work. As with any war, dealing with the aftermath is difficult. It requires hard work, focus, commitment and, make no mistake, it is dangerous.
One of the biggest obstacles is land mines. These are not real land mines that can physically kill you but if the GOP doesn’t disarm them, they can kill the party’s chance for a victory in 2016.
The three biggest land mines standing between Republicans and victory in 2016 are:
- No real accomplishments
- The wrong accomplishments
- Accomplishments for which Obama gets the credit
The first one is obvious. GOP leaders fail to lead. Their trumpets continue to blow uncertain sounds that few will follow.
In the House, Boehner fails to craft the kind of bills that have broad public support, bills like balancing the budget, cutting out wasteful programs and giveaways to wealthy campaign donors. He simply can’t get the entrenched incumbents who are addicted to spending on board.
In the Senate, McConnell fails to convince enough Democrats to get behind these reasonable, popular measures.
The end result is a lot of whining, but nothing of any importance gets done.
The second land mine — the wrong accomplishments — is even more dangerous. The first one that comes to mind is a “comprehensive” immigration reform bill, comprehensive being the code word for amnesty. The majority of the American people don’t want it but, unfortunately, most of the congressional leadership in both political parties do, for different reasons.
Yes, Obama is threatening to do amnesty with an executive order if the Republicans don’t cave, but the old “devil made us do it” will not fly. Let Obama do it — if he dares —and the onus will be on him. However, a comprehensive bill on immigration that includes amnesty will be the death knell for Republicans who will get blamed, and rightfully so.
The third land mine is even more difficult to defuse. Republicans were in a similar position after the 1994 election when they gained control of the House and the Senate after 40 years in the congressional wilderness.
Unlike this election, which was a wave, the election in 1994 was a rout because House Republicans presented a clearly defined agenda to voters. The “Contract with America” was a series of reforms and 10 bills that had overwhelming public support — bills that never saw the light of day under Democrat control.
Those House Republicans delivered. Internal reforms were enacted: the House underwent a comprehensive audit to find waste, fraud and abuse; committee chairmen were term-limited; committee meetings were opened to the public; the number of committees and committee staff were cut and they enacted a provision that required Congress to abide by the laws that were imposed on the rest of the country.
Furthermore, those 10 popular promised bills were all brought to the floor of the House for a vote in the first 100 days. Not all passed. Some died in the Senate. Others were vetoed by President Clinton and one was overturned by the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, over the next two years, they managed to slow the rate of federal spending and improve the business climate which led to the first budget surpluses since the 1960s and the largest peacetime expansion in American history. Nevertheless, the GOP failed to get the credit.
Conventional wisdom says it was Bill Clinton who balanced the nation’s budget and gave us welfare reform. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The great Clinton tax hikes in 1993, did not produce a balance budget. In fact, his budgets gave us red ink as far as the eye could see. In 1995, the newly elected Congress literally wrestled Bill Clinton to the ground over the budget. They forced him to produce, not one, but five different budgets until he finally came up with one that matched their plan to reach balance. It was the same with welfare reform. The welfare reform bill that finally passed and was signed into law was a watered-down version of the original GOP plan in the Contract with America.
Obama, like Clinton, is a charismatic figure and a master communicator. Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader McConnell are not.
Even if the GOP manages to defuse the first two land mines, without a change in leadership, it is likely it will step on the third — and BANG — Obama and the Democrats will have won.