SACRAMENTO – President Barack Obama saved the Republican Party from itself. In a two-party system, when one party makes a mess of things, the only choice is to reward the other party and hope that, eventually, one of the parties learns the right lessons. The Democrats received a well-deserved comeuppance, although the populist tide fizzled at the California state line. Our voters apparently are bigger gluttons for punishment than those in the rest of the country.
The GOP should thank its lucky stars that John McCain was not in the White House, or else it would be the Democrats who would be celebrating an Election Day rout. McCain supported the same basic noxious policies as Obama (cap and trade, health care reform, big bailouts, military expansionism) even if he wouldn’t have gone to the same extreme as our current president on the domestic stuff.
In 2008, a McCain victory would have kept the Republican Party on the same perilous course it was on under George W. Bush, except that the conservative grass roots would have stayed on board the GOP ship, grumbling but generally supportive of its efforts. The Tea Party would never have become a full-fledged political movement. One reader was even kind enough to remember my call for the political equivalent of chemotherapy – an Obama victory, which shocked the system of a sickly body politic.
Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama is a true ideologue. He embraced policies that couldn’t possibly fix the nation’s economic problems. He rejected his own election theme of bipartisanship. He abandoned the middle, and the middle abandoned him – just as it abandoned the Republicans two years ago.
Speaking at a recent luncheon in Costa Mesa, California’s conservative conscience, U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay, said, “The American people are about to give Republicans a second chance that we know we don’t deserve.” But he believes the GOP leadership has learned some painful lessons about not selling out its core principles.
I’ve heard numerous Republicans make similar points. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, believes that if the new GOP Congress takes the route of the Bush years that a third conservative party will rise up, and will siphon away enough votes to assure years of Democratic hegemony. “If we tread water and don’t work to restore the liberties that have been lost over the last decade, the Republicans will lose the public’s support as quickly as they gained it,” Orange County GOP Chairman Scott Baugh told me Tuesday.
According to pollster Scott Rasmussen, “Based on our polling, 51 percent now see Democrats as the party of big government, and nearly as many see Republicans as the party of big business. That leaves no party left to represent the American people.” The Republicans now have an opportunity to prove otherwise – and they can do so by embracing an agenda of liberty that benefits all Americans.
Unfortunately, I still hear Republicans who defend the legacy of Bush. But that’s a legacy of expanded entitlement programs, massive deficits, costly foreign wars, corporate bailouts and an endlessly expanding National Security State that would have horrified this nation’s founders. Just because the Democrats have been even worse doesn’t excuse this sorry record.
Let’s hope the GOP holds firm, keeps the Obama administration in check and creates enough certainty that the private sector can get the economy going again. As McClintock noted, the Republican goal should not be to help the majority party pass laws, but to detail an alternative vision of government – one that’s consistent with the animating principles of this nation. The media will say this is divisive and that it will offend swing voters. But swing voters have rejected the policies of big government in a big way in two consecutive elections. The GOP needs to find new and appealing ways to explain why free markets are the only source of wealth and progress. Otherwise, the pendulum might swing right back to the left in two years.