George Will: I never said the White House wasn't winnable

When George Will wrote in his March 2 column that conservatives might want to consider “Plan B” for stopping Obama, it almost sounded like he thought the White House wasn’t winnable. That’s certainly how Rush Limbaugh interpreted it, for example. Today, on ABC’s “This Week,” Will clarified that his call to focus on winning majorities in the House and Senate was not meant to imply he thought conservatives should give up on the White House.

“My position then, as now, was there may come a point, I said, when political assets being finite — enthusiasm, time and money — you might want to concentrate on getting all of the gavels of the committees of Congress in the Republican hands because Obama can’t be beaten by these people,” Will said. “It’s not yet time to do that.”

Will said that there were reasons for Republicans to keep fighting for the White House. In particular, the fact that Obama’s poll numbers were so closely impacted by fluctuations in gas prices, Will said, should give Republicans hope.

“What Haley [Barbour] said a moment ago is right,” Will continued. “I mean, things are going badly for Republicans. Things are going reasonably well in the economy, at least by the normal metrics. The president’s job approval is going down, driven by gas for Pete’s sake, which tells you how fragile and brittle his support is there. So, at this point, I would say no, keep fighting, but prepare to retrench.”

This topic is tricky. Where should conservatives focus their resources? Their legislative priorities likely can’t or won’t be fully accomplished if Republicans don’t achieve majorities in both chambers of Congress in addition to the White House. We can’t ignore congressional races. But risking the presidency for the sake of the House or Senate seems even more foolish. Consider Obamacare, for example. More than likely, no Democratic chamber would ever vote to repeal it, but Obama will certainly never sign a repeal bill. Nor does Obama much care if he crosses constitutional boundaries to legislate from the executive branch. Yes, Obama has got to go. Any of the remaining GOP candidates would be better. If, in concentrating resources on the presidential election, conservatives are unable to take back the Senate or retain the House, then they regroup.

At that point, it would make sense for conservatives to pour the majority of their resources into issue advocacy, into convincing Democrats one by one to vote for conservative solutions. Paul Ryan’s practically-one-man mission to reform Medicare and his success at acquiring at least some Democratic supporters proves that it’s possible to sell well-thought-out solutions even to those who are initially resistant. With a Republican in the White House, Democrats would feel even freer to cross the aisle. Right now, Democrats have to worry not only about their own reelections, but about how their votes affect the president’s reelection bid. At times, they might even cross their constituents so as not to cross the president and the party. The temptation to do that would lessen with a Republican president, which means that, if conservatives can convince their neighbors to adopt conservative ideas and to put pressure on legislators to adopt them as well, they might be able to accomplish wonders with a Republican president and divided Congress.