American Gladiators II: A Painful Look Back…A Bright Future Ahead

The Following piece is the 2nd installment of an ongoing series here at The Conservative Reader. “American Gladiators” is a recurring feature focusing on the defining political issue of our generation: the crucial battle over Federal spending and the debt and deficit it creates.

A favorite saying of both political parties these days is that “elections have consequences”—2010 proved that so do primaries. For Republicans no past event has had a bigger impact on the eventual major players and the shape of the fiscal debate’s battlefield than the primaries preceding the 2010 mid-term elections.

Though history now, you may recall at that time an internal debate was raging amongst Republicans. Many influential Conservative thinkers, including Charles Krauthammer, joined a large number of high ranking members of the Republican establishment in warning against selecting “unconventional”, mostly Tea Party backed, candidates to compete against Democrats in liberal leaning districts.

Though admittedly unappealing, this camp made the case that in selected states it would be wiser to support more moderate Republicans who had a greater chance of winning in traditional Democratic strong holds. They particularly took issue with Christine O’ Donnell in Delaware, Linda McMahon in Connecticut, and Sharon Angle in Nevada, all of whom went on to win their primaries but lose in the general election.

While the stand was principled, harnessing a populist movement is difficult, and there is no guarantee a more main stream Republican would have won, it is fair to at least consider this rejection of political pragmatism as an over reach by the Tea Party… and one that had painful consequences.

Working without anesthesia, Dr. Hindsight unmercifully reopens the wounds when one considers how much better Republicans would be positioned with just four more Senate seats. Having a majority in this body to go along with the one already had in the House would have provided Republicans a massive strategic advantage. Specifically, it would have allowed them to not only pass unified bills on spending cuts and the budget, but to bypass the Senate buffer the President currently enjoys and send the bills directly to his desk. Removing this Senate buffer would have enabled Republicans to repeatedly, and at will, draw him out on targeted issues. Imagine a scenario in which every week he was forced to either agree and sign a bill, or veto it and go on record resisting specific cuts.

Any Democratic strategist would tell you that either of these actions would be vastly damaging to his re-election bid. Should he sign, his base would trample themselves in disgusted exodus, while a veto would leave him constantly defending unpopular expenditures, and require him to personally counter-offer with specific proposals (not his strong suit). Such extended exposure on vulnerable ground would have in essence reworded the old political axiom “sunlight is the best disinfectant” into “sunlight is the best infectant”.

In spite of these lost opportunities, snapping out of the past and returning to the present finds Republicans still in very good shape. Though it includes a few head scratchers, the polling data on long term budget issues strongly favors the GOP position. The best news is provided by the findings on the debate’s two most fundamental questions: Are budget deficits and the National debt widely perceived as problems? And, do people feel that success from Republican plans is fundamentally possible?

As to the first, a CBS News Poll (March 18-21,2011-m.o.e=+-3) found that 68% of respondents felt that the budget deficit was a “serious problem”, while another 26% termed it “somewhat serious”. Only 5% thought it was “not too serious”.

While beyond promising, perhaps the better news comes from a Bloomberg National Poll (March 4-7, 2011-m.o.e=+-3.1) which asked “Do you think it is, or is not possible to bring down the deficit substantially without raising taxes?” The results reveal a clear path to victory. 61% felt that it is possible, while only 37% thought it was not. This is critical because not raising taxes is both the exact approach taken by all the Republican plans, as well as one of the main criticisms leveled against them by opponents.

While it is true historically that the particulars of a proposal are less popular than its concept, starting with numbers this high leaves room for weathering the inevitable loss of points forthcoming now that specifics of the plans have been revealed. If the caustic attacks on the plans as being “extreme” are able to be zeroed out by the number of converted skeptics, there likely would still be ample room to compromise with Democrats on some points, which for passage in 2012 is an absolute must.

While looking back at what could have been is painful, the opportunity to win is still very much within reach. Given that the Tea Party is solely responsible for the fact that we are even having this debate, it is hard to criticize it. That being said, it is wise to note the times that the movement’s fierce purism creates a double-edged sword.

We will never know if different Republican primary candidates would have resulted in a Senate majority, but we do know that winning on an issue this big will require both strategy and some compromise. Going forward it will be fascinating to see to what extent the Tea Party tolerates each to be in play, if at all.

Sometimes the most nuanced political analysis is worthless and the whole issue comes down to a simple question. This appears to be just such an issue and the question that victory hinges on is: “Do the American people believe that remaining on the current path will end in a financial disaster?”

For the reasons given above, if I was looking at this and was a gambling man—that faint sound you hear would be my chips…smoothly sliding across felt.

About the Author

Mr. Arnold is a long time constitutional conservative. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Literature from the University of Iowa. Over the last few years he has been involved in numerous political campaigns, most recently serving as campaign manager for an Iowa House candidate and serving as a city chair for Tom Latham. He is self-employed, running a small business in Ankeny, Iowa where he resides with his wife.

 

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