Earlier today, Ben Brophy questioned the wisdom of congressional Republicans sitting on their hands and letting Obamacare do their electoral work for them. Peter Suderman, in evaluating the speeches at CPAC, had a similar observation:
Yet even as the parade of GOP bright lights affirmed support for a positive vision backed by productive policy ideas, most seemed to struggle to define that vision, or talk clearly about what those ideas should be. The GOP has decided that it should probably stand for something—yet aside from electing more Republicans, it’s still not sure what, exactly, that is.
Since Mitt Romney lost, conservatives have sat through a good deal of scolding about how the Republican Party needs to jettison ideology and focus on winning elections. There's a germ of sense there. The GOP hasn’t won a presidential election since 2004, and has won the popular vote only once in a presidential election since 1992. The coat of practical politics might be itchy to wear, but it’s necessary.
The problem is that the GOP’s plan for winning elections as of late might be called its Antimatter Strategy. Republicans present themselves as the diametric opposite of something unpopular without specifying what that opposite is. This was Mitt Romney’s modus operandi in 2012: I am not Barack Obama. Beyond that we got vague denunciations of Obamacare, speeches in which the word “America” was copied and pasted throughout, and a 59-point economic plan that was complex in order to obfuscate.
Romney eventually discovered the joys of specifics at the first presidential debate, both threatening to defund Big Bird and sending his poll numbers skyrocketing—no easy feat!—but by then it was too late. Romney’s months of vacuity meant that Democrats defined him by his gaffes and rough edges. He paid dearly at the polls.
This year, Republicans are running on the message: We are not Obamacare. The only other priority the establishment is taking seriously is immigration, though as Ben pointed out, the Senate and the House don’t agree on a bill. Beyond that: Keep your heads down and mumble about Obamacare until Election Day. And for God’s sake, don’t do anything that will spook the voters. Republicans think the electorate is like the tyrannosaurus from Jurassic Park—it can’t see you if you don’t move, it will eat you if it sees you, and it’s concerned primarily with crossing border fences.
That means there must be no disruptions that could be blamed on a Republican between now and Election Day. So no more debt ceiling or budget fights. Toss out military pension reform and most of the sequester. Declare Congressman Dave Camp’s tax plan dead on arrival. Ignore the ideas coming from the Tea Partiers and reform conservatives.
There are those who don't subscribe to the Antimatter Strategy (Senator Mike Lee comes to mind). And there is a certain logic to the strategy that may yield fruit for Republicans. Many of the so-called conservative reforms out there aren’t all that great and don’t merit consideration in a non-election year, let alone this one. But political parties are supposed to fight on multiple fronts at once. Can Republicans really woo voters by running as the anti-Obamacare? While they gloss over other key issues like taxes, the debt, and regulatory overreach?
It seems more likely that, as with Romney, the antimatter will explode in their faces.
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