Four Steps to Senate Control in 2014

For the third consecutive election cycle, the Republican Party is yet again poised to take control of the Senate. Of course, we said that in 2010 and 2012. In 2014, things may be somewhat different. Coupled with the likely retention of GOP control of the House, this is yet again a unique opportunity which Harry Reid has, coincidentally, made it easier for Republicans to thwart the Obama judicial and executive branch liberal make-over. First, there is no Obama at the top of the ticket although in many states there are gubernatorial races that may, in some states, increase the chances of the Democratic Party. Probably the most vulnerable Republican governor is Rick Scott in Florida, but there is no senatorial race this year. After that, if polling is any indication, it will be a close race in Wisconsin although this writer believes Scott Walker will prevail. But again, there is no senatorial race in Wisconsin this year. Thus, the landscape would favor Republicans in states where there are senatorial races. The second factor is that a singular issue- Obamacare- will likely dominate the political discourse throughout the campaign. If a law that was passed four years ago still dominates the news today, it will also dominate next year. Here, Republicans hold the advantage provided they can articulate an option to Obamacare in the area of health care reform which every side concedes needs reform.

The first step towards winning the Senate is party unity. Much has been made of the so-called feud between the Tea Party and the “Establishment.” Personally, I believe this is an over-hyped fact of political life that every party goes through when they lose national elections. This “feud” is nothing compared to what the Democratic Party went through in 1968 or even into the late 1980s. The fact is that the disastrous feud within the Democratic Party hurt them greatly and had it not been for Watergate, would have led to a string of Republican presidential wins. As it was, only a 4 year hiatus with the Carter presidency occurred.

That being said, it is important that after the primaries that both sides lay aside their differences for a while and keep their eyes on the ultimate goal- winning the Senate. Truth be told, the Tea Party excels more at the primary/caucus level than they do in the general election area despite some previous high profile victories in 2010. However, there were also some not so great Tea Party candidates in the senatorial general election of 2010 in states where there were open seats or vulnerable Democrats. We know who they are and a rehashing of the events of 2010 is political history. However, the Tea Party serves another very important function within the Republican Party.

This writer likes to view the Tea Party as the Nirvana (as in the rock group) of the Republican Party. In the early 1990s, rock music was dominated by the big-hair bands and obnoxious pop music. Nirvana exploded on the scene and essentially wiped both of that drivel off the scene. They refocused the music and brought back some of the energy to rock music. Likewise, the Tea Party has served to refocus the Republican Party on what was once the bedrock of their principles- small, limited, constitutional government. This came after a period of bloated spending under George W. Bush where the Republican-led Congress acted like your average Democrat. Like Nirvana, there was a backlash against that group where they were described as nothing but noise led by a heroin addict. To deny there was a backlash against the Tea Party by the Establishment Republicans would be a denial of reality. Public statements bordering on disdain for Tea Party people from the likes of Mitch McConnell, John McCain and Lindsey Graham serve no good purpose. The fact is that it is the Establishment Republicans who have been the greater transgressors when it comes to Party unity.

Some here have talked about finding a way to reconcile the differences between the two groups. Clearly, there is common ground between the two that needs to be recognized and emphasized. But it is also a fact that one cannot enact a conservative agenda- or even elements of a conservative agenda- unless they actually win a general election. Otherwise, it is just rhetoric and constant campaigning. The Republicans need to look at the example of Tom Cotton in Arkansas who appeals, for whatever reasons, to the two groups. Personally, I think it comes down to sticking to one’s principles and honesty. But whatever the mechanism, peace after the primary season and mutual support for the Republican nominee is important. That means that if Matt Bevin should win in Kentucky, then there must be support for him from the RNC and if McConnell prevails, then there must be support (or at least a ratcheting down of negative rhetoric) from the Tea Party. If McConnell should prevail and win the general election, perhaps a better battleground would be over his hoped-for Majority leadership in the Senate (I do not think he is a good Minority Leader and would be a worse Majority Leader).

Along the way, everyone must realize there are regional differences within the Party and this is step two. A candidate like John Enzi would never win a statewide election in a state like New Jersey just as a Republican candidate like Chris Christie would never win a statewide election in a state like Wyoming. While some would like the GOP to have absolute conservative purity, it is not a reality. Even the Democratic Party is not a pure party of liberals. If you look hard enough, you can find moderate or even conservative Democrats along the way. I would, however, argue against a Republican in the Michael Bloomberg mold. In fact, he should be used as a template of what a Republican is NOT despite having the “R” after their name. Along the way, some people seem to rely too heavily on ratings from special interest groups but they only serve as a general gauge of the candidate. There is room in the Republican Party for a variety of methods of getting to a desired goal provided there is agreement on that goal. Thus, there is room in the Party for the staunch conservative, the moderate Northeastern Republican and the libertarian. To some, this may seem like a reiteration of the Buckley Rule: run the most electable conservative. If the goal is to win the Senate, that may entail biting the bullet and dealing with a Susan Collins. Likewise, a Republican in New Hampshire might have to bite the bullet and deal with a Ted Cruz.

The third, and perhaps most important, step is to stick to the issues. Public polling is informative here as to what is most important to the electorate in general, not subsets of the electorate. The Republican Party should not become a de facto Democratic Party and pander to these subsets. Instead, the important issues are the broad principles of (1) small, limited but responsive government, (2) a respect for the Constitution, (3) free market reforms, and (4) governmental transparency. Within those categories, there is enough evidence that Obama and the Democratic Party’s leadership in Congress has violated all these principles. Along these lines, it is imperative that Obamacare remain the dominant issue in 2014 and given the administration’s track record, that should not be a problem. The fact is that a law passed four years ago remains the most controversial in existence to today.

We should use the example of the recent Virginia gubernatorial election. Although several factors led to Ken Cuccinelli’s defeat (a Libertarian Party candidate primarily), there is no doubt in this writer’s mind that given another week, we may have been celebrating his victory. The unique dynamics of Virginia with their large concentration of federal employees in the DC suburbs coupled with the partial government shutdown was a distraction in that race. Once that distraction was resolved, Obamacare dominated the discourse and Cuccinelli soared at the end despite polling that indicated otherwise. Likewise, in every state where Republicans have a realistic chance of picking up a seat in the Senate, the issue must be Obamacare and the huge bureaucratic state created under the leader of the Democratic Party. Despite their Utopian claims to the contrary, Obamacare is a huge albatross around the necks of every Democrat who supported, currently supports, or has endorsed Obamacare in whole or part.

Naturally, there will be other issues like immigration, gun control, tax reform among others. A staunch liberal, Democratic, Hispanic friend once conceded: “I will give you guys one thing- you have your s#@! together on the economic issues.” These are the issues that affect the lives of every American. Of course, we all likely have views on a variety of issues and some may affect one more than the other, but the economic issues are the ones that affect all equally. Sticking to these issues is a must because they are a winning strategy.

Which brings me to step 4: avoid the liberal media traps. The liberal media is heavily invested in Democratic victories and in hyping alleged differences within the Republican Party to illustrate that the GOP is dysfunctional and, therefore, unworthy of political power. To do this, they over-emphasize benign differences and assert the proposition that the GOP is outside the mainstream and extreme. Case in point: Todd Akin. Instead of a Senator Akin from Missouri, they are stuck with six more years of Claire McCaskill, a candidate who was on political life support before Akin spoke those infamous lines. To anyone in Missouri or elsewhere, Akin’s pro-life credentials were unquestioned. And that is all he had to say: “Everyone knows my views on that subject, so can we please talk about _____?” In Virginia, despite the Democratic Party and their liberal media allies trying to portray Ken Cuccinelli as some right ring kook coming after women with transvaginal ultrasounds, he learned the lesson of Akin and almost won. To gain the Senate, we do not need “almost wins,” but actual victories.

To some, this may sound like the Mitch Daniels social issue truce idea. This seemed like surrender and abandoning principles on the social issues. The social issues are divisive issues that will always be so with strong opinions on both sides. But, it should be left at that. Regarding abortion, for example, one can surmise that despite a 50/50 split (or something near that) on the issue, most do not want their tax dollars going to provide abortions. Gay marriage should be a state issue and left at that. If the people of Illinois want it, then that is their decision, but if the people of Alabama do not, their decision should be respected also. In fact, most social issues can be framed as economic issues. For example, one can cite the loss of economic production from aborted babies. One can cite the economic costs of a liberal, borderless immigration policy. And so on. Thus, framing social issues in economic terms allows one to maintain their stances on the issues without sounding extreme. In short, Democrats are most vulnerable on the economic issues. Focusing the discussion in that direction increases GOP chances.

In conclusion, the Republicans must flip six seats in the Senate. This is, given the unique circumstances presented the GOP in 2014, tantalizingly close and certainly possible. Democratic resignations in states like Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia have made the job easier, while those in Iowa and Michigan have made the possibility increase with the right GOP candidate for those states. There are enough vulnerable Democrats in places like Louisiana, Arkansas, Alaska, and now it would appear even Colorado. The only thing that stands in the way of Republicans gaining control of the Senate in 2014 is the Republican Party itself. Hopefully, they have learned from the mistakes of recent history.