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Then came 9/11 and the entire direction of the Bush presidency changed. The GOP largely forgot about the need to diversify its message and its messengers; there was a war to be won. The election of Barack Obama and the battle over health care created the Tea Party and today’s harsh, unyielding tone of opposition.
Republicans hardly find themselves a helpless minority after the 2012 election. The GOP controls the U.S. House, a majority of Governors and enough seats in the US Senate to block any bill they oppose. Here at home, Democrats control both houses of the Legislature, but Republicans are within six seats of a majority in the House, and effectively control the state Senate in collaboration with two Democratic renegades. Still, one gets a sense that the tide of history is moving away from Republicans. How does the GOP change that?
Politics are driven by events. That is why predicting the future is so difficult. It is impossible to know what is going happen that will dramatically affect the 2014 and 2016 elections. We can, however, extrapolate based on today’s circumstances.
For the next three years, until a new crop of presidential candidates take the stage, the GOP will be defined by the congressional leadership. Those leaders need to get the GOP back to where it was before 9/11. They need to let go of the past and swallow the frustration of losing the last two presidential elections.
Republicans need to make it clear they are willing to negotiate and compromise on budgets and deficits. Embrace the principals of the Simpson-Bowles report. Offer specific changes to the health care law and work with the president to find compromise. And once and for all, abandon the insane idea that we can or should round up and deport millions of immigrants, and instead embrace comprehensive immigration reform. Without abandoning its core economic principals, Republicans need show themselves to be reasonable people, offering realistic solutions, who are willing to negotiate in good faith.
Here at home, Republicans need to focus on education and be patient. The state Supreme Court has ordered the state to once and for all fully fund basic education without relying on levy dollars. Republican legislators need to embrace this directive, as Rob McKenna did. Republicans should continue to make education reform, and education funding, the centerpiece of their message.
The 2014 election will be quiet, with no statewide races. The GOP should get to work now recruiting a candidate to run against freshman Rep. Suzan Del Bene in the 1st Congressional District. Republican Rob McKenna won the 1st with 52 percent of the vote. In a mid-term election, with the right candidate, the 1st is a district Republicans can win. Republicans will also have a real chance to win outright control of the state Senate in 2014.
The 2016 election is so far away it is impossible to know what the political landscape will look like. Republicans will need candidates for governor and U.S. senator. To have a chance, those candidates — whoever they are — will have to dramatically and explicitly differentiate themselves from the national Republican image and message, unless events, or national Republican leaders and candidates, have altered the current views of the two parties.
To be a Republican on the West Coast (or a Democrat in the South) is to live with the frustration of not controlling your own destiny. There is nothing Rob McKenna could do or say that was going to overcome the image of the GOP created by national events and the party’s national leaders.
Blue state Republicans need to hope those leaders now see that demography is destiny. Republicans need to recapture the moderate, solutions-oriented message and tone that was lost when the war on terror swallowed the Bush domestic agenda. To do otherwise is to rely on an ever shrinking base, and the cynical hope that millions of Americans won’t exercise their right to vote. Hardly appropriate for the party of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan, and a very popular Governor of Texas who came into the White House with such high hopes.
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