As we waited for the 2016 election to finally be over, I recently went back to look at some of the things I’ve written in years past when arguments arose between the GOP establishment, the Tea Party, the Freedom Caucus, the moderates and the rest of the factions which make up the often fractured Republican coalition. I realize I’ve been accused of being too favorable to the party structure on more than one occasion. I was in no hurry to see John Boehner chased out the door and have been more than willing to give Paul Ryan some room to run. For me it’s always boiled down to setting reasonable expectations.
After the nightmarish outcome of the 2008 election cycle there was already discontent among the conservative faithful, many of whom felt that the GOP just wasn’t fighting back hard enough. My take on it then was that we’d lost not only the White House, but control of both chambers of Congress. What did we expect the Republicans to do? When shutting down the government is your only option there’s only so much progress that can be made. Taking back the House and eventually the Senate gave us considerably more leverage, but even then we couldn’t break a filibuster in the Senate and there was a Democrat in the Oval Office waiting to veto any agreed upon proposals. Options were still limited and when the Speaker and the Senate Majority leader cried poverty in terms of power, I still tended to offer a sympathetic ear, at least to a degree.
Beginning in January the excuses have run out. All three sets of keys have been placed in the hands of the Republicans. It’s true that there is still the question of the sixty vote barrier in the Senate, but as both Allahpundit and I have written already, that can be overcome through a couple of procedural maneuvers if the GOP is willing to accept the risk. Yes, there are questions remaining about the incoming occupant of the Oval Office and how truly committed he may be to the conservative reform promises he made on the campaign trail. I get it. But keep in mind that it’s the legislative branch which writes the bills. Would Trump dare to veto moves from his own party which he promised on the stump for two years? I’m cautiously optimistic that he would not.
I’m not getting my hopes up yet, though. Let’s keep our history in mind and recall what happened the last time the GOP had this much power during the early days of George W. Bush’s tenure. Granted, he only had nine months in office before everything… changed. But there were still disappointments on the domestic front. He went to work with Ted Kennedy on an education package and expanded Medicare extensively in 2003. The deficits were too large with the debt continuing to climb and you can’t blame all of that on funding the war effort. (Actually not even a significant portion of it.) Are we doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past or have we learned something?
The real question seems to be whether a conservative agenda can be put into place, but done in such a way that it won’t result in an immediate backlash to a degree which brings a Democratic wave in response in two or four years. Conservatives have a harder product to sell than Democrats. Reducing spending generally entails at least some reductions in services and the tightening of belts. People don’t tend to like that, no matter how important it is to the long term health of the nation. Trickle down economics is pretty much an obscene phrase in the minds of many, so just tax cuts and nothing but tax cuts isn’t going to work. These ideas have to be articulated properly and put into motion in a way which produces tangible results people can appreciate. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk. The question is, are Republican leaders up to that task? We’ve been fighting from the cheap seats for so long, do we even remember how to manage the action when we’re back in the director’s chair?
Communicate with your representatives and make it clear what’s expected from Trump from the moment he’s sworn in. There’s a tremendous opportunity awaiting us next year, but there’s also a chasm below our feet which the GOP could easily plunge into if we bungle the hand off.