The razor-thin margin between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden was not the result for which Republicans hoped but holding the line against Sen. Chuck Schumer becoming majority leader, and actually weakening Speaker Pelosi’s House majority are not insignificant achievements. Also, Republican gains in state legislatures as we brace for redistricting is further cause for at least muted celebration.
The real task Republicans in Washington and in “red states” now face is to resist the understandable urge to focus on the election that just ended. This will take a degree of discipline and leadership not always abundant in the Grand Old Party.
But still, first things first.
Between now and next January, Republican leaders, donors and voters must do everything in their power to ensure both sitting Georgia GOP senators win the run-off election scheduled for January 5, 2021. Only by doing this will Mitch McConnell remain in control of the Senate as a crucial check on the worst excesses of a Biden-Harris Administration. Once this pair of victories is won, Republicans must immediately pivot and turn their attention to 2022.
If the GOP plays its hand not just well but expertly, it very well could wrest the House majority back from the Democrats in two short years.
Achieving this blue-ribbon prize will be difficult, but not impossible. In fact, it was Republican messaging that stressed economic recovery and law and order that was key to last week’s closer-than-expected presidential vote and up-ending the Democrats’ hoped-for congressional “blue wave.” Consistent delivery of this message will be especially relevant if, as he has promised, a President Biden listens to the “scientists” and shutters our economy.
Republicans need to recapture the magic of Ronald Reagan in demonstrating the superior moral and positive economic outcomes from real-world, conservative policies. As I wrote last week, this includes focusing on issues such as fiscal restraint, Second Amendment rights (especially with so many first-time gun owners now voting), federalism, and traditional values. Candidates, incumbents, and party leaders must be clear and consistent in articulating these principles, and not succumb to the siren song of liberal social media that too often tricks Republicans into thinking voters want a softer, watered-down version of them. Last week’s results clearly show many voters want more freedom and less government.
Another factor working on Republicans’ favor looking toward 2022 is the simmering, if not growing rift between moderate Democrats and the increasingly vocal radical elements in the Party. Biden secured his Party’s nomination because he is not – at least comparatively speaking -- a radical Democrat. Ultra-liberal “progressives” like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her nutty “Squad,” along with cranky socialist Bernie Sanders, however, believe that they put Biden in the White House and therefore deserve seats at the table. Republicans should not interfere in this domestic discord and, when possible, deftly encourage it.
In the coming biennium, Republicans should hone their messaging with narrowly crafted legislative proposals that places their agenda clearly before the electorate. The GOP does not need to present broad, sweeping legislative packages that play to their base (and which a President Biden would never sign into law anyway). The better strategy is to propose solutions to address specific problems faced by voters, including ones that put Democrats on the spot by making it difficult for them to vote “No.”
Such actions will show leadership and an ability to get things done, both of which the American electorate has made clear it really, really wants.
If Republicans muster and maintain the courage to implement this strategy, and if the effort is coordinated effectively between the House and the Senate, and with red state governors and credible outside organizations, 2022 might turn out to bear a welcome resemblance to 1994, when Republicans defied the odds and flipped the House majority for the first time in four decades.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and was the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990. He served as an official with the CIA during the 1970s.