Searching for the Conservative Missing Link

If Republicans could only win the U.S. House we’d be in good shape. Well, not exactly. If Republicans could only also win the U.S. Senate we’d be in good shape. Right? Not exactly.

Few people are expecting much out of our current congressional leadership. Besides the headlines showing that yes, indeed, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid no longer have the controls, we’ll mostly see John Boehner and Mitch McConnell acting (as Newt Gingrich famously said of Bob Dole) as tax collectors for the welfare state.

What’s the next “if”?: If Republicans could only win both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, hey, that will be the ticket!

Actually as we approach 2016, the circumstances are similar to the run-up to the 2000 election: A Republican Congress, and a Democratic president with decent approval ratings (yes, Obama’s aren’t bad). Nevertheless there’s a sense the country is ready for a change of direction. Notice that I didn’t say the country is ready for a change of managers for bloated and harmful government.

Hey, we even have another Bush running! Unfortunately we already know what happened when we elected the last President Bush. Starting in 2001 Republicans accelerated spending faster than Bill Clinton. Any hope that the GOP would do anything more than manage big fat government was extinguished rather quickly. The era of big government officially returned — under GOP control.

Were we to have a repeat of history like 1980 when Ronald Reagan rode into town, now that could be different. Notice I said could. Government expanded under Reagan too. Yes, the economy recovered and the conservative principles were discussed. However, the seeds for the next setback for those pushing limited government were planted and watered and grew nicely in the following years.

In order to save the country, we can’t just have another Reagan. We’ll need to do more.

First, Republicans will have to learn from the Democrats how to advance an agenda. When Democrats won the Congress back in 2006 and 2008 they once again showed how it’s done. Unlike Republicans, they used their power — the number of regulations soared, Obamacare passed, and government’s size and scope continue to reach new and dangerous levels.

Meanwhile, Republicans at all levels have demonstrated little skill in moving public opinion. And without public support we’ll never see true domestic policy reforms or government put on a diet.

Republicans often hold power and even a fundraising advantage. Thanks to the think tanks and policy research institutes they have all the ideas they could ever use. What they lack is an understanding of how to carry a convincing message to more American voters.

Elected Republicans aren’t the only ones who have something to learn. Every American conservative has to stop treating politics like it’s someone else’s responsibility. Yes, the very people who champion personal responsibility have been derelict in their duty as citizens to personally engage the political process with time and money. That means you. Yes, you. Staying informed and bitching constantly doesn’t cut it. We all have work to do if we’re going to reach more of our uninformed and misinformed fellow citizens about what needs to change and why.

What exactly that work consists of — and how we can all engage — will be the topic of this column in the days ahead.