For the moment at least, the party's situation is little changed from November 2012, when it could not beat a president with an unemployment rate of 7.8 percent. Today, it's common for Republicans to blame Mitt Romney for that loss. Of course it's true that Romney bears a good deal of responsibility; he was (as some of his rivals argued) uniquely unqualified to attack Obama over Obamacare, and his entrepreneur-based economic appeal frequently seemed to hit the wrong note.
But Romney's was not the only race Republicans lost in 2012. If the fault were all his, what accounts for the GOP losing Senate races it should have won in Montana and North Dakota? What accounts for Republicans losing a special election like the 2011 race in New York's 26th Congressional District at a time when the economy was undeniably terrible?
It takes a long time to get over big defeats, and Republicans aren't anywhere near getting over 2012. But now, as new battles with Obama loom, some Republicans are trying to come to grips with the dimensions of their defeat, and with what they have to do to get back into the game.
Specifically, they're laboring to come up with policies that will both help the economy and capitalize on Obama's vulnerabilities. Of course they'll continue to hit Obama on jobs, on an economic "recovery" that has left millions behind, and on the dislocations of Obamacare. But GOP strategists increasingly concede that taking whacks at Obama is not enough; they have to base their campaign on a revitalized economic agenda. What that agenda will be, however, is another matter.
Right now, they're considering pushing four issues: tax reform, energy, government spending, and health care. All except health care have been GOP staples in the past, so the challenge will be to craft Republican proposals that break new ground and are clearly directed toward stimulating economic activity, toward spurring growth that the Obama economy has been so desperately lacking. The danger is that the new agenda will come out sounding like Republican same-old, same-old.
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