For my money, the No. 1 political question in 2010 is what, if anything, will come of the tea-party movement and the general popular angst that swelled over the past year. Can it be channeled — and if so, how will it be channeled, by whom, and will this be effective?
But question 1a would have to be whether the Republican Party can prove that it deserves to be the recipient of the tea-party momentum — for this momentum is still very much outside the GOP at the moment. Voters are still trying to figure out whether Republicans have learned anything from the elections of 2006 and 2008, or whether their stay in the wilderness is still too brief. The evidence to date is that independent voters have bailed on the Democrats. But do they trust Republicans to be a credible alternative?
These questions are getting louder now that we’re in the mid-term election year, and their sources ought to get the GOP’s attention.
In The Wall Street Journal today, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan:
The question isn’t whether [Republicans will] win seats in the House and Senate this year, and the question isn’t even how many. The question is whether the party will be worthy of victory, whether it learned from its losses in 2006 and ‘08, whether it deserves leadership. Whether Republicans are a worthy alternative. Whether, in short, they are serious.
Republican political professionals in Washington assume a coming victory. They do not see that 2010 could be a catastrophic victory for them. If they seize back power without clear purpose, if they are not serious, if they do the lazy and cynical thing by just sitting back and letting the Democrats lose, three bad things will happen. They will contribute to the air of cynicism in which our citizens marinate. Their lack of seriousness will be discerned by the Republican base, whose enthusiasm and generosity will be blunted. And the Republicans themselves will be left unable to lead when their time comes, because operating cynically will allow the public to view them cynically, which will lessen the chance they will be able to do anything constructive.
At National Review Online yesterday, deputy managing editor Kevin Williamson:
Sure, the Republicans might win [in 2010] — but what makes us think they’re going to do any better this time around? But maybe the Republican leadership has cooked up some ingenious new ideas that I’ve somehow missed. So I trucked on over to John Boehner’s web site to see what the top Republican in Congress wants Joe Public to know about his agenda: I clicked on Issues, and I clicked on Border Security, the first item. Press release: June 26, 2008.
After reviewing the less-than-impressive material on Boehner’s site, Williamson concludes:
The point is that, while it is fun to watch [Barack] Obama, [Nancy] Pelosi, and [Harry] Reid shoot each other in the feet, Democratic stupidity and Republican stupidity are complementary conditions, not exclusive ones. The Republicans may be set to have a big year in 2010, but a victory based on smart, innovative thinking would be much more pleasing — and much better for the country — than one based on dumb luck, Obama’s narcissism, and Reid’s fecklessness.
There’s a lot of innovative thinking on the right…but there is little evidence that much or any of it is making its way to the Republican party as such. Conservatives, for instance, have much, much better ideas about health-care reform than do Democrats. A smart Republican leadership would be shouting those from the rooftops. But that’s not happening. Conservatives have good new ideas about energy, national security, and the economy, too, but you wouldn’t know it to hear Republican leaders talk….It’s easy to know what to be against right now, but the Republicans have yet to show that they’ve really learned from the shellacking of 2006–08.
Also yesterday, Cato Institute scholar (and UGA grad) Dan Mitchell took exception to the way some Republicans, and specifically former Bush adviser Karl Rove in a WSJ column this week, approach the Obama Democrats’ spending addiction:
I’m a big fan of condemning Obama’s big-government schemes, but Rove is the last person in the world who should be complaining about too much wasteful spending. After all, he was the top adviser to President Bush and the federal budget exploded during Bush’s eight years, climbing from $1.8 trillion to more than $3.5 trillion. More specifically, Rove was a leading proponent of the proposals that dramatically expanded the size and scope of the federal government, including the no-bureaucrat-left-behind education bill, the two corrupt farm bills, the two pork-filled transportation bills, and the grossly irresponsible new Medicare entitlement program.
All during the Bush years, I would complain to people in the Administration about wasteful spending. It didn’t matter whether I was talking to people at the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisers, the Treasury Department, or the National Economic Council. They almost always expressed sympathy for what I was saying, and then complained that the decisions were being made by the “White House political people.”
There aren’t many bigger champions of limited government and free markets than the WSJ, National Review and Cato. If some of their leading voices aren’t yet on board with the GOP of 2010, less than 10 months from Election Day, Republicans are going to have trouble come November.
And far more important, Americans are going to be left with one major party doing what they don’t want, and another one they don’t trust to be any better.