It’s all over but the voting. To hear pundits, prognosticators, politicians and pollsters tell it, Tuesday is either going to be a “wave“, a “nightmare” or just plain “chaos“. I rather lean towards the chaos because it ultimately speaks to how the American people view the political leadership in Washington, but more importantly, their own genuine uncertainty about what to do about it. The fact remains, that regardless of the polls showing overall dissatisfaction with the current elected representatives in Washington, close to 90% of them will be reelected regardless of party.
But out of this potential chaos can come a real opportunity for the GOP to govern-should they take control of the Senate.
In his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed Republican strategist Karl Rove analyzed GOP chances for winning U.S. Senate control. The piece largely focused on the fundraising advantages and disadvantages of the two national parties and their candidates. Yet in discussing the role of money in elections-which, granted, is very important — Rove misses the main point concerning Republican election chances and their readiness to govern.
It wasn’t until his concluding paragraphs that Rove barely touched on what should have been the main focus of all Republican candidates, their donors and supporters: namely, how Republicans will lead and ultimately govern should they control both houses of Congress during the last two years of Barack Obama’s presidency.
Rove says some pundits expecting a GOP “election wave” next week may not fully materialize because Democrats are outraising and outspending Republicans in most Senate races. He notes that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee outraised the National Republican Senatorial Committee by $1.6 million in August and, as of August 31, was sitting on a $5 million larger war chest. He also points to an American Crossroads study which notes that so far Democrat political entities had run or placed some $109 million in campaign TV ads, while their Republican counterparts had only run or placed $85 million.
Republican candidates, though, have often been on the short end of this fundraising stick. Yet they still have won seats when effectively emphasizing national and local policies and issues, as well as demonstrating or even establishing a link directly with what voters need.
Let’s remember that Obama’s approval rating hovers around an anemic 39 to 43 percent for a reason-it’s what happens when you break that link with voters. This has certainly become a millstone around the necks of Senate Democrat candidates as well, especially those running in “Red States”. For Republicans, needing to gain six Senate seats to retake the majority (it appears that the GOP will pick up half that number from Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia), there are eight seats in play-Louisiana, Alaska, Arkansas, North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan-from which Republicans will be able to build their majority. But, will their objective be met because they have more cash on hand or is there something else of more value to voters the GOP should be concerned about in order to become a true governing majority?
Scott McKay, writing for The American Spectator, says money is not the main challenge for the party. “The Republican Party, in part thanks to Rove’s actions, lacks credibility and trust with voters and activists – both of which it must have.”
McKay makes the point that Rove’s hands are not clean in the party establishment’s war against the Tea Party earlier this year. “A major effort was made to decry the practices of Tea Party groups using populist messaging as a fundraising tool for selfish profit rather than to move the electoral needle — and that criticism is valid,” he writes. “It’s true that many of the D.C.-based Tea Party outfits are running a racket on conservative activists and donors. But while the argument holds water, Rove and other Beltway GOP gurus like him are the wrong people to point fingers, because that’s precisely what they’ve been doing to their own donors.” Bravo.
But what gets lost in elections like this (I know this from 2010) is the realization that it’s not just about the money. It’s about people, and a message that speaks to their needs at a time when government seems to turn a deaf ear to taxpayers and voters.
At some point you must convey to voters some sense that you understand their needs and desires; you are prepared to address their concerns, and ultimately you will lead wisely with the power they give you at the ballot box.
Because that has not been this campaign, more than in any previous election, what the GOP says to America once this electoral dust has settled will matter greatly.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy in recent interviews made clear his belief that “you have one chance to make a first impression. From the very first day after the election, we should be laying out to the American public what the expectations are.” I applaud the Majority Leader, but I would add to that declaration a strong statement that “we hear you…we understand you…we agree we can no longer do what we have been doing”.
Going into Tuesday’s elections the lack of trust, both by the voters as a whole and by the conservative base, is what Republicans must be apprehensive about. Polling is tight and reflects not only frustration with the state of affairs at home and abroad, but with a political process that has grown old and stale.
For Republicans it’s not enough to run on the unpopularity of the president (although as one operative noted to me, “it helps”). At some point, those successful GOP candidates along with the House and Senate leadership must support legislative initiatives that speak directly to the needs of a people who have been mired in recession and underemployment for far too long. At the most fundamental level, this agenda must 1) restore our national confidence in our borders and immigration system; 2) boost private sector job creation by reducing federal overregulation on businesses and individuals; 3) restore the Voting Rights Act; 4) recommit to a bipartisan (Simpson-Bowles?) approach to reducing the national debt (since 42 cents of every dollar we spend is borrowed); 5) achieve energy independence, especially through approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline which many Democrats and unions support; 6) begin a serious conversation about the minimum wage; and 7) simplify and streamline the tax code to incentivize businesses to repatriate profits held offshore and to lessen the burden on middle class taxpayers.
Rove and others can beat the fundraising drums whether on the pages of The Wall Street Journal or in a crowded hotel ballroom with major donors, but a true governing GOP majority will ultimately be established by candidates and elected representatives articulating a vision that comes from a new understanding of public need, demonstrating fearless leadership and proving they can govern by their actions.