WASHINGTON, January 27, 2014 — A recently sworn in Chris Christie has proven that Republicans can attract voters in blue states with the right approach. In Virginia Ken Cuccinelli (R) narrowly lost the race for the governor’s mansion in Virginia, a state previously run by his party.
Cuccinelli’s loss sparked an inevitable GOP soul-search and once again raised the question of Republican electability. Few, if any, figures in the party appeal to every faction of the right. The GOP must learn to reconcile its frustrated, demanding conservative wing with the realities of who can get elected in the present climate.
With every race, the answer becomes clearer:
The GOP’s greatest charge against the president of late has been his stubborn resistance to discussion and compromise of any kind. Ostensibly, the willingness — and what’s rarer still, the diplomatic ability — to reach across the aisle in the name of progress is a trait Republicans want to see in a leader. One of the hallmarks of Obama’s failure as a president is his lack of tolerance for ideas and initiatives that originate outside of his own political camp.
Yet the GOP continues to lampoon any potential standard-bearer who displays a semblance of bipartisanship.
The 2013 shutdown drama illustrates just how dangerous a failure to communicate can be. Obama exacerbated tensions between the parties when he made clear that he would not negotiate on any budget issue. He introduced harsh rhetoric that cast his political opponents as “hostage-takers” and villains.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid echoed those sentiments and directed his chamber to crush any proposals that contained even one sentence of Republican origin. The conservative caucus in the House was not blameless, to be sure, but the GOP hedged on nearly every demand to get a compromise through Congress before the clock struck midnight — to no avail. And after weeks of bitter back-and-forth more reminiscent of an HBO series than believable reality, lawmakers opted to push the fight to January rather than address the problems on the table.
Obama has ushered in a new era of hyper-polarization — both on Capitol Hill and among average voters — marked by a deep, personal aversion to the tactics and ideology of the “other side.” His signature legislative achievement has pitted the parties against each other like nothing else in recent memory, especially considering the unabashedly partisan manner in which it cleared Congress.
Similarly transformative legislation, such as Social Security, enjoyed support from members of both parties and passed with substantial red and blue votes. Obamacare hobbled through Congress without a single Republican “yea.” That type of maneuvering has created an environment where both parties work independently toward zero-sum goals, a setting in which progress takes second place to pride.
Lawmakers like Chris Christie who display the type of ends-driven leadership that could cut through gridlock are decried by the establishment as RINOs who don’t represent the base. Christie often draws fire from the conservative fold, with pundits like Ann Coulter claiming that past and future support for the New Jersey governor is a mistake. But his ability to work with Democrats in the state legislature, balance the books without raising taxes, and add 60,000 private sector jobs while the national unemployment rate climbed proves that his brand of flexible Republicanism works.
Republicans can’t carp about a leadership contingent that won’t play ball and continue to run candidates who intend to impose their agendas at any cost. Terry McAulliffe’s bipartisan promise, coupled with the negative frame he successfully placed around Ken Cuccinelli, certainly contributed to his marginal victory in the Old Dominion this week.
Cuccinelli was painted as a staunch conservative and an entrenched politician who would not bend to the will of the people, while McAuliffe vowed in his Tuesday-night victory speech to reach out to Republicans in the state legislature and to continue the “rich bipartisan tradition” of Virginia politics. That’s the type of message that will resonate with voters in this time of governance by theatrics: “I represent a certain set of principles, but I’m open to hearing what another set may have to say.”
Conservatives have a right to feel angred by recent events in Washington; their voice is constantly mocked and, thanks to an inarguably biased press, has been essentially discredited. Unfortunately, they have to respond to the reality at hand: Conservatives can’t win against a peacemaking Democrat, especially in a region as diverse as Virginia. Republicans have to balance what they want in an ideal candidate with what can actually be accomplished given the state of the electorate.
Putting a moderate Republican in power is better than winning no seat at all. Many conservatives lose sight of this truth when they demand a principled politician to step forward when a practical one would be far more successful.