I just got off the phone with a very plugged-in Republican strategist who told me that Republican reaction to President Obama’s speech, which the party will roll out in the next few days, will mark the beginning of a new GOP approach to opposing the president’s initiatives. (No, Bobby Jindal’s ineffective response was not part of that new approach — everyone seems a little embarrassed about that.) The Republican leadership in the House has concluded that in the stimulus debate, the GOP succeeded in dominating a number of news cycles but failed to score any points on actual policy. That, the leaders believe, has got to change.
“You’re seeing a major doctrinal shift in how Republicans are going to focus all these debates,” the strategist told me. “The key is to focus on winning the issue as opposed to winning the political moment. If you win the issue, people will think you are ready to govern.”
I asked him to elaborate a little. “With the political moment, it’s how can you find the one thing that gives you the momentary upper hand in terms of the coverage for the next six hours — as opposed to engaging the electorate in creating a structural change in their opinion on which party is better able to handle an issue.”
During the stimulus debate, the strategist argued, Republicans had an actual alternative but were unable to direct much attention to it — in part because they were focusing so much of their rhetoric on the massive and unnecessary spending in the bill. The debate became a question of an up-or-down decision on the Obama/Democratic plan — not a choice between the Obama/Democratic plan and a Republican plan. “The coverage of the stimulus bill focused on the difference between the House and Senate versions,” the strategist told me, “which were basically two sides of the same coin.” The Republican role was limited to a) saying no to the Obama/Democratic bill, and b) having three moderates in the Senate approve of the bill as long as it offered a little less than what Democrats proposed. The idea that Republicans, mostly in the House, had an actual full-scale alternative, was lost. “On the Sunday talk shows, right after it passed, find me one person who mentioned the Republican alternative,” the strategist said.
Look, big points for finally starting to figure this out after spending millions of dollars on tire gauges and fake press credentials and celebrity ads and “Drill, baby, drill” t-shirts. Quite frankly, you’ve been a bit of a joke lately (so much so that you were openly mocked by Paris Hilton). Props for recognizing that the key to the GOP future is not through youtube masturbatory fantasies about being back in the saddle again, but you still aren’t there yet, folks.
Repeat after me: You had no alternative. You had no alternative. You had no alternative. The reason no one on the Sunday shows could point to the Republican alternative WAS BECAUSE YOU DID NOT HAVE ONE.
You had a mantra- tax cuts. And you had something proposed by DeMint that you all supported. And you had more tax cuts in a house bill. Technically, I guess you could pretend that those were an alternative, but considering it was more of the same, it wasn’t really an alternative, since all we did over the past eight years was cut taxes. In fact, a good way to judge whether you had a real alternative is the fact that none of you could go on one of the hundreds of television shows that just love to have Republicans on and explain why after a decade of tax cuts got us into this mess, more tax cuts was the solution. Pretending this slate of more tax cuts was an alternative is akin to the Rolling Stones re-releasing Sympathy For the Devil, but this time with a banjo instead of guitars, and calling it a fresh new song. Most of us would recognize the tune, but we would still think they were crazy. And in fairness to the Rolling Stones, they are still a touch more popular than you and your ideas and might be able to pull it off. Say it again- you had no alternative. You had tax cuts, and you had sneering derision for anything the Democrats proposed. Even the libertarians at Reason had an alternative (albeit #2 on a list of four was, you guessed it… tax cuts and #3 was tinkering around the margins of Roth funds). You had nothing.
But I am happy with the baby steps you are making. Considering in the general election, your candidate had no clue what the difference was between tactics and strategy as it applied to Iraq, this is real progress. Some day soon you all may actually have an idea that requires more than the room on a bumper sticker to describe in full.