Commentary Magazine


More than They Expected

The Washington Post declares:

Three months after their Election Day drubbing, Republican leaders see glimmers of rebirth in the party’s liberation from an unpopular president, its selection of its first African American chairman and, most of all, its stand against a stimulus package that they are increasingly confident will provide little economic jolt but will pay off politically for those who oppose it.

All of that is true, of course. But there are other factors at work here to lift the Republicans’ spirits. First, while the Bush administration had its achievements, the last two election cycles were a dreary reminder that the Bush years took the party from dreams of a Republican realignment to fear of its permanent minority status. Congressional Republicans have been liberated from the obligation to defend the Bush administration.

Moreover, it turns out the Obama team, in concert with the Congressional Democrats, isn’t that good at this governing business. They could have gone for the middle ground on the stimulus plan and pulled in far more Republican support. As Fred Barnes noted, they “wrote the wrong bill, exactly”:

“All you needed to give them, really, was some — some tax cut with stimulus. John McCain’s the perfect example. You just showed McCain. Why is he against it? All of us know that there’s nothing that John McCain is more attracted to than a bipartisan compromise, more than anybody in the entire Congress. And he’s against this, because Republicans got really nothing they wanted on the tax side that would stimulate the economy.”

(And because it’s filled with non-stimulative, junky spending.)

Moreover, Republicans were worried there for a bit that the New Politics and gooey spirit of bipartisanship might have been been for real, making it tricky to battle the popular new administration and appeal to apolitical swing voters. But since the Obama team has dropped any pretense of that, the field is wide open.

In short, the Republicans have the good fortune to be counter-punching against a White House experiencing a rocky start (between the tax cheats and the stimulus debate). The White House’s travails won’t last forever, but it has stripped the mystique of political ”shock and awe” from the Obama team. It has given Republicans a much-needed reminder that their opposition is vulnerable to the same errors and miscues that bedeviled them when they were in charge.

It is easy to forget that the party out of power always has material to work with. Now, a lot more than they expected.