In 2011, the Republican Party tarnished its image and nearly bankrupted itself intellectually after a primary process that endured for too long and was too hospitable to too many unelectable candidates. Bachman, Cain, Gingrich, and Paul, you know who you are.
In 2012, the Republican Party lost because of its failure to turn out the base, its failure to garner a sufficient number of Hispanic votes, and its failure to articulate a coherent vision that contrasted with Mr. Obama’s.
In 2013, the country’s balance sheet will irreversibly tilt towards the “Greece” end of the ledger unless major structural changes are made to the current taxing and spending regimes. This presents the GOP with a major opportunity, to fail or succeed.
The Republican road to electoral ruin is paved with compromise and centrism. John McCain and Mitt Romney know something about this. Conversely, the Republican road to electoral restoration is paved with bold distinctions. On the presidential level, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush knew about this. On the state level, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Mitch Daniels and Bobby Jindal get this.
Thus, the choice before the party is this: in the wake of an epic defeat, which road to choose? Compromise and moderation, or bold distinction? The fiscal cliff debate invites a choice.
The President, leading in word but not in deed, has made clear that he intends to fleece the rich, “invest” in more “stimulus,” and kick the fiscal can off the debt cliff and down the recession road. The President has also made clear that he favors a “tax now, cut later” approach. Apparently all that talk about a “balanced” approach during the debates was just that, talk.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner recently floated a proposal for $1.6 trillion in tax hikes, $50 billion in stimulus, $400 billion in cuts, and presidential control of the debt ceiling. This proposal, a policy Hindenburg, is akin to putting a diabetic in charge of a Winchell’s donuts franchise and trusting him to live long and prosper.
A few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue, the administration’s erstwhile congressional allies have echoed similar proposals. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has proposed that any fiscal cliff solution would have to include raising the debt ceiling. Debt created the crisis, yet Sen. Reid wants to pile on the debt. Returning to our prior analogy, this would be like injecting donuts into our Winchell’s manager’s mouth while injecting insulin into his veins.
Senator Dick Durbin, another reality denier, has decreed that Social Security, which is broke and going broker, is off limits for fiscal cliff negotiations. Similarly, Medicare, which other Democrats have declared healthy and sacrosanct, is headed down the same path as Social Security: Medicare’s hospital trust fund will be depleted by 2024, and that doesn’t factor in the full weight and cost of Obamacare.
Given the foregoing, what are Republicans to do? Some, still loyal to their Norquist pledge, argue against raising marginal rates. Others, including House Speaker Boehner, have agreed to eliminate some tax deductions. How’s that going to sell on the road to Republican resurgence?
It’s well past time that Republicans put up (a fight) or stop talking. The message needs to be simple and persuasive. Borrowing from President Obama, it should go something like this:
The party of $6 trillion in debt in four years cannot be trusted to address our debt problem. We cannot, and we will not go back to the policies of the last four years.
We are not satisfied with economic growth of 2 percent. This country can do better. Here’s how we’ll do better.
We want more employers and more jobs and more paychecks. Tax increases kill jobs and reduce paychecks, so we will not support tax increases.
We believe the country is spending too much money, and we believe you can spend your money better than Washington can. So we reject any deal that fails to make meaningful spending cuts.
We want to preserve Social Security and Medicare for ourselves and our children. Honesty requires that we tell you that both programs are on life support, so any deal must include reforms to these programs.
We believe retirement savings should be protected, so we reject any attempts to tax or nationalize 401K programs.
We believe you and your doctor know how to address your medical needs, so we will not fund Obamacare, which places Washington bureaucrats between you and your doctor.
None of the foregoing was foreclosed by the ballot results on November 6, 2012. Further, if the GOP needs reminding, the nation returned a Republican House.
The nation cries out for leadership, and the national balance sheet cries out for redress. The party that heeds these twin calls will be rewarded, by history, and by the voters in 2014. Republicans should conduct themselves accordingly.