Healthy political parties with compelling narratives tend not to lose districts they previously carried by 20 points and in which their opponents failed to even field a candidate in the previous election. This is true even when their particular candidate is lackluster, especially when the economy is on the side of the incumbent party. There is no way to spin the GOP loss in PA-18, especially since Republicans have lost traditionally conservative areas in Virginia and so many state legislative special elections deep in red territory this past year.
The reality is that the entire GOP is one big lackluster party with no counter-narrative to what Democrats are putting out to jazz up the base and win over voters in the middle disgusted by the political system. And with the coming omnibus bill, Republicans are ensuring that this dynamic will get even worse headed into November.
Being the incumbent party always means the other side is more energized, looking for every way they can take you down. The way to win is to rally your side, make bold plays, and march the ball down the field to get the crowd on your side. But in this year of political football, Republicans are doing nothing to energize their base or win over swing voters and are in fact validating every Democrat narrative on almost every issue.
Most polls show Democrats are just as unpopular as Republicans, but voters who are looking for something new will always turn to the party out of power — unless Republicans give them a convincing reason to turn back to them. The only good thing Republicans did was pass the tax cuts, but they are even squandering that success by refusing to make them permanent.
Learning the right lessons from PA-18
Republicans will continue to spin the loss as a problem with the quality of the candidate:
In a closed meeting today with Republicans, we expect NRCC chairman Steve Stivers to emphasize that "candidates and campaigns matter" in light of PA-18. Message to members will be all about fundamentals: raising money, defining yourself and your opponent.
— Rebecca Berg (@rebeccagberg) March 14, 2018
However, what they are missing is that the entire GOP is now one big Rick Saccone.
Some will suggest that the presumptive Democrat victor, Conor Lamb, had to obscure all of his liberal views in order to win. That is true, but it makes the fact that Republicans refuse to aggressively expose Democrats’ ideology all the more criminally negligent.
It’s not just that Republicans stand for nothing and have no narrative. They have spent their time in office championing, validating, and exalting every principle of the Left, from guns and immigration to health care, debt, ethanol cronyism, and the opioid crisis (which is really a heroin/fentanyl crisis). They are now pushing gun control, an insurance bailout, an internet sales tax, and more crony subsidies in our economy, with only slightly less enthusiasm than the Left. When faced with a choice between Democrat and Democrat Lite, why wouldn’t voters just choose the real thing?
It’s not just that they failed to repeal Obamacare; it’s that they have championed every premise of Obamacare as an imperative to society. Meanwhile, they refuse to even utter a word about $2,100 premiums while promising cartel bailouts rather than railing against the health care cartel.
Polls have consistently shown that health care is a top concern of voters. It was by far the top concern of voters in the 2017 Virginia elections. Just a few months ago, health care dwarfed other issues as the top concern and was the highest priority voters wanted addressed in the State of the Union. Yet Republicans refuse to talk about it and hold the Left accountable for the insurance cartel.
I’ve been working for years to build a narrative in this column on moving away not just from Obamacare but from the entire cronyist system that empowers a private monopoly to hurt consumers. This narrative is completely absent even from most conservative circles in Washington.
The one time Republicans looked good to the voters was when Trump delivered an effective State of the Union address with a definitive and compelling narrative. It was universally heralded, even by many Democrat voters. But even the president, and certainly congressional Republicans on the ballot this year, went backward from that speech rather than going on offense. If their excuse is that they can’t do anything without 60 votes, then the voters will relieve them of their painful immobility.
Even if Republicans rally their base back by terrifying them with the prospect of Speaker Pelosi (yes, it’s always “the lesser of two evils”), it might save places like Texas, but it will not be enough to win back the swing voters who supported them in 2014 and 2016. This alone will be enough to tip the House to Democrats. And in a wave election, even the few good conservatives will be washed away because they can’t be heard over the banal message of the broader party.
It’s time for conservatives to declare independence
The few remaining conservatives in the House should treat last night’s results as a watershed moment for them. It’s time for them to disentangle themselves from the morass of false choices and narratives and declare independence based on their own message. They should craft a new contract with America – something akin to a bill of rights for the forgotten taxpayer and consumer. Here are just a few broad ideas that would not only energize the base, but win back swing voters starving for a new and definitive agenda:
These are only a few ideas. There are plenty of others where they came from. I extrapolated on this idea in my podcast. Each statement of principle should be punctuated by a few specific ideas and pieces of legislation that codify those ideals. None of these should be facially partisan; they are common sense. Then I’d call in all primary candidates to come to the steps of the Capitol on April 15 and sign the bill of rights, much as Newt Gingrich did on September 27, 1994. Except this would not be done by leadership and it would not be done in the general election. It would be done in the primary and have the effect of disentangling conservatives from the status quo. It would weed out the impotent and useless candidates in the primaries or force some of them to give voters a reason to support them.
The status quo is not an option.
Democrats got slaughtered in 2010 after using their complete control of government to implement the leftist agenda to the fullest. If Republicans are going to get slaughtered in 2018, shouldn’t they at least try to implement what they say are Republican and conservative positions — rather than dying for the other side’s agenda?
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.