In the aftermath of last November’s disappointing Gubernatorial election, I have observed some things that I consider to be potentially dangerous to our Republican Party. Over the course of this next week, I’d like to raise some issues that I feel very strongly need to be addressed. Now, I certainly do not put myself out to be an expert on any of these issues, nor do I claim to have all the answers. Rather, I hope to generate some discussion and encourage others to continue thinking about the direction of our Party in the coming months and years.
The main problem I have seen since November is an attitude on the part of Republicans that Jerry Kilgore’s loss was some sort of fluke or accident. By focusing the bulk of the blame on the candidate and his campaign, Republicans are attempting to reassure themselves by claiming that Tim Kaine “got lucky.” This type of thinking is dangerous and will only lead to future defeat.
It is true that Virginia remains a plurality Republican state. In other words, there are more Republicans here in the Commonwealth than there are Democrats, but only slightly. There remains a sizeable swath of independent-minded voters who must be convinced to vote for one side or the other. By attributing Kaine’s victory to luck or an incompetent opposition, Republicans are guilty of glossing over the reasons why these “swing voters” chose the Democrat over the Republican in this election.
I am concerned that many Republicans have merely accepted this reasoning and are convinced that we’ll just "get ‘em next time." The short-term result of this thinking is a lost sense of urgency about campaigning for Republicans. The long-term result will be losing more elections. If we do not learn from our mistakes, then we are doomed to repeat them. There were plenty of mistakes to go around this past year and I’m not convinced that we have yet learned from them.
As way of example, one mistake that I would point out would be our Party’s seeming failure to push security issues in last year’s election. By all accounts, security is the top issue among most Americans and is certainly of great concern to those in voter-rich areas like NoVA and Tidewater. Last year we had a candidate with a clear edge on those issues by virtue of his experience as Attorney General and Secretary of Public Safety. However, in my part of the state I heard very little talk about those issues. Further, the issue of security could have easily been used to translate to other areas such as transportation security and economic security. Instead, Tim Kaine was permitted to frame the debate as one about "good government" and Kilgore failed to respond by providing voters with ample reason to change the status quo.
Granted, this is all Monday Morning Quarterbacking, but these are the types of things that should be pointed out and discussed if we hope to win future elections. It is also true that State and national elections hinge on different issues, but it is clear that the approach attempted by Kilgore was unsuccessful, so why not at least talk about other possible approaches? I am certain that there are many of you out there who have other ideas that can be brought to bear and will ultimately help improve our Party. I encourage you to submit them.
Now, a word about this fall’s elections. It seems to me that the disappointment of last fall, combined with frustration over the fortunes of the national Republican Party have some GOP folks feeling a little down. Many of us conservatives are frustrated that a GOP President and Congress, not to mention General Assembly, have so departed from the tenets of fiscal discipline that we hold dear. Now that we’ve gotten what we want from President Bush in the way of Supreme Court Justices, it is becoming increasingly easy to find reasons to be annoyed at this Administration and feel less than enthusiastic about aiding the Republican cause.
I urge my fellow Republicans not to give in to this malaise. If anything, the present situation should encourage us to fight even harder for our cause. As the National Review’s Jay Nordlinger is saying, we should be on the offense in this election, particularly on the issue of the War in Iraq. Staying home this summer and fall and allowing the Democrats to take over Congress will do nothing to advance conservative Republican principles. We’ll talk more about what those principles entail tomorrow, but for now I want to urge you to get off the sidelines and get back into the game.
Democratic control of Congress would mean an immediate declaration of defeat in Iraq, two years of Impeachment actions against President Bush, repeal of the tax cuts that have allowed rapid economic expansion and growth in recent years, weakening of our national security infrastructure through the watering-down of the PATRIOT Act and related legislation, and much, much more.
Basically, Democratic control of Congress would be a nightmare. Despite the frustration with the current Republican Congress, it is MUCH easier for conservatives to affect change by working from the inside by getting behind the type of legislation currently being promoted by Senator Allen (line-item veto, balanced budget amendment, Congressional pay restrictions) than it would be to do so as the minority party.
There is going to be a lot at stake this November. Things can change at any moment and I for one would much rather have Republicans in charge to face the unexpected when it comes. Though I am not thrilled by everything our Party has done, I still believe that we are the only Party that is offering positive solutions to the everyday problems faced by Americans today. The Democrats are running on a platform of fear and anger. I do not believe that is a strategy that benefits this nation and I encourage all Republicans to get to work spreading that message to the electorate here in Virginia and throughout the country.