A crisis is a terrible thing to waste
It’s been said that when life gives you lemons you make lemonade. So it is with politics.
The GOP’s 2008 election defeat planted and watered the seeds of what the party has been in need of for a long time – a real conservative revolution.
The good news is that Barack Obama is making it all possible. He and the Democrat leadership are providing Americans with a vivid reminder of everything they don’t like about liberalism.
As White House Chief of Staff Rham Emanuel was credited with saying after Obama took office, ”a crisis is a terrible thing to waste”. Well, just ten months in to his term, Americans are sensing a crisis. Specifically, the crisis represented by Obama’s brand of liberalism, and they’re in the mood for a revolt.
In general, people tend to know what they don’t like, and sometimes more so than they know what they do like. They paid attention in recent years as the Republicans in Congress lost their bearings and acted like the proverbial drunken sailors on payday – with taxpayer’s dollars. Voters didn’t like it. And they punished the GOP at the ballot box.
But it wasn’t a rebellion against conservatism, despite what some media wags (and moderate Republicans) may say. Voters didn’t put the Democrats in charge because they thought Republicans were too pro-life or thumped the Bible too much. They abandoned the GOP because of its increasing tolerance for big spending and big government. Period.
But now they have Obama’s shining example of unadulterated big spending, big government, social liberalism to remind them of what they don’t like. And they’re having a strong negative reaction. So negative in fact that his approval numbers fell further and faster than any first term President since polling began.
Still, the Republican Party needs to do more to give voters something to like. In a word, conservatism.
In 2008, the Gallup poll identified twenty-nine percent of independents self-describing themselves as conservatives. Today that number is thirty-five percent. Why? Well, for starters, according to Gallup, a growing number of people are fed up with big government, want more promotion of traditional values, are opposed to the growing influence of labor unions, and oppose more restrictive gun laws. The antithesis of Obama’s brand of liberalism.
And they’re giving Republicans a second look.
According to the “generic ballot” results in both the latest Rasmussen and Gallup polls, Republicans (despite themselves) register forty-two percent support, with the Democrats at thirty-eight percent. In fact, the GOP has led the generic ballot now for over four months.
And voters claming no party affiliation at all prefer Republicans by an incredible two to one margin of forty-two percent to twenty-one percent. This is in contrast to the Democrats holding a ten point advantage in the same poll a year ago.
In fact, on the ten issues rated as “most important” by self-identified independents in a Rasmussen poll, they lean towards the conservative Republican position on all ten.
And what’s among the biggest issues on voter’s minds? The national deficit and the debt. In other words the type of spending issues that the congressional Republicans went AWOL on. But now voters have Obama to rebel against, and the GOP is winning back support simply by being “the party of no”. But that’s not enough in the long run.
The loss of support for the Democrats has been almost twice as large as the gain for the GOP – which means that Republicans still have room to grow but must do more to close the sale. It means advocating more of the conservative principles that led to past success.
All of which is to say that Republicans can still screw it up – and it’s up to conservatives to make sure that they don’t.
2008 was a lesson for the GOP in how not to run a campaign. Specifically, underselling conservatism and nominating a candidate that seemed to spend more time arguing with the party base than supporting it. Those who’ve led our party to its current status and have been all too ready to reject Reaganism forget that Reagan’s rise was preceded by boldly conservative ideas and rhetoric coupled with passion.
Now is not a time to attract people with measured rhetoric and half-measured policies. As Tony Blankley recently wrote, “in times of fear, anger and passion, the opposition party must stand with that passion – not aside.”