To recover from the horrible blow to its image the Republican Party has sustained in the past two weeks, the party needs to showcase an attitude of sweet reasonableness.
We must be sure that President Obama cannot channel Ronald Reagan and say to us “there you go again.” Issues will not make recovery possible for the party as long as the voter regards it as irresponsible, immature, quarrelsome, obstinate and arrogantly uncompromising. These character defects will override the strongest of issue identifications.
If voters ascribe these traits to the party, it will never win their support — whether or not it is right on the issues.
In 1995-96, the party did not get the message. After shutting down the government from Nov. 16-19, 1995, they reopened it using much the same strategy of a clean continuing resolution they have just followed to end the current shutdown. But they never learned their lesson. On Dec. 19, 1995, they were at it again, shutting down the government all through the Christmas holidays and only reopening it, in total defeat, on Jan. 6, 1996. Now the Republican leaders, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, must step up to the podium and say it clearly: We will never again shut down the government or lead others to feel that the U.S. faces default. We will fight, between the foul lines, for our beliefs, but we will not shut down the government.
Then Republicans need to demonstrate on the next few issues, an attitude of sweet reasonableness.
On immigration reform, they should move to pass a bill to adopt the reforms already voted by the Senate if — and only if — the border is sealed first. They should pass the Cornyn amendment, which requires verification of border closure before the process of legalization proceeds. Currently, Republicans are worried that if they pass a bill, it will morph into the Senate bill in conference committee. They need to be sure that doesn’t happen. But if it does, they can vote down the resulting bill. We are not obliged to pass their version of a bill. But we do need to pass a bill and put our position out there.
And on the budget negotiations and the spending cuts, Republicans need to change their basic position. Right now, Democrats say they will back eliminating corporate loopholes and deductions if the revenue can be used for new spending. Republicans want it all used for tax cuts in rates on individuals and corporations. The Republicans should turn the Democratic flank and say that we don’t only want cuts in the tax rates but that we want a combination of cut in rates and a reduction of the deficit.
Use the savings to cut the deficit. The public puts deficit reduction ahead of new spending and cuts in tax rates.
Move the Republican position to synchronize with the public’s long held view on this key issue. Republicans should steadfastly oppose new spending but should back the use of new revenues to cut the deficit.
How the Republican Party comports itself in the next few weeks is crucial. They can either rub in the image they have created or begin to move beyond it. The only way to defeat and repeal Obamacare is to win the next two elections. To do that, we need a better image and to roll back the damage we have done to ourselves.
(Dick Morris, former advisor to the Clinton administration, is a commentator and writer. He is also a columnist for the New York Post and The Hill. His wife, Eileen McGann is an attorney and consultant.)