This is probably the GOP’s number one danger moving forward. It cannot allow President Obama to create the impression that Republicans are too radical or dangerous to govern. Without sacrificing its veto power over the liberal agenda, the best approach for the GOP is a strategic withdrawal from the battlefield. If there is no forcing this president to be responsible, and if the GOP is hopelessly outgunned in the PR war by the partnership of the White House and a pliant press corps, then the only sensible move is to demur. Republicans should pass whatever symbolic pieces of legislation are necessary to stake out the GOP’s position, but when it comes down to a choice between some kind of crisis (be it a government shutdown, the “fiscal cliff,” or whatever) and letting Obama have his way, Republicans should choose the latter.
Nancy Pelosi’s tenure as speaker in 2007 and 2008 is actually a good model for Republicans. The Democrats won in 2006 on a wave of antiwar sentiment, but so long as George W. Bush held the veto pen, there was relatively little they could do. Sure, congressional Democrats could have cut off war funding, but that would have been a PR disaster. So Pelosi and her leadership team passed symbolic bills to end the war, then acceded to President Bush’s requests for funding.
While avoiding unproductive confrontations in Washington, Republicans should turn their attention to the states as the main arena for conservative reforms. Which state leaders have been successful? Why have they succeeded? How can these lessons be translated to the national stage? Republicans should be optimistic about their future because, with so many leaders on the state level, it is possible for the GOP to get answers to these questions between now and 2016. Put another way, the GOP is like a baseball team that just missed the playoffs, but is fortunate to have an excellent system of farm clubs.