‘It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” So begins Charles Dickens’s epic novel about the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities. I think this analogy is apropos of the 2014 midterms for two reasons. First, the coming Republican triumph, which will give the GOP control of the Senate and send it to its highest number of House seats since 1928, will be the best of times for Republicans and the worst of times for Democrats.
But more important, it tells the story of the ongoing fight between the two Republican parties, the so-called establishment and tea-party wings of the GOP. Each, especially the establishment, is likely to interpret the results as being the best of times for them and the worst of times for their foe. This in turn will keep each faction from seeing the midterm’s lessons in their entirety, unfortunately making a Democratic victory in the all-important presidential race much more likely.
This is the eighth installment of my biennial election-prediction memos. For those reading one for the first time, I organize the piece into three parts. First, the nuts-and-bolts predictions, both on an aggregate basis and seat-by-seat. Second, a brief explanation of why I am calling some of the tough seats the way I am. Third, and what I view as most important, I put this election into context, looking at how conservatives and Republicans should put the lessons this midterm teaches to good use in 2016.
“WE WERE GOING DIRECT TO HEAVEN”
Senate: R 52; D 45; I 3 (R +7; D -8; I +1)
Seats Switching to GOP: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia
Seats Switching to Democrats: None
Seats Switching to Independents: Kansas
House: R 245; D 191 (R +11)
Seats Switching to GOP: AZ 1, AZ 2, CA 7, CA 52, FL 26, IL 12, NH 1, NY 1, NY 18, NY 21, NC 7, UT 4, WV 3
Seats Switching to Democrats: CA 31, NE 2
“WE WERE ALL GOING DIRECT THE OTHER WAY”
Governors: R 27; D 22; I 1 (D +1; I +1)
GOP Losses: AK, FL, KS, ME, PA
GOP Gains: IL, MA, AR
“IT WAS THE AGE OF WISDOM; IT WAS THE AGE OF FOOLISHNESS”
Many readers are probably up in arms at my relatively modest Senate prediction. Where’s North Carolina? Why don’t I see Scott Brown pulling out New Hampshire? What’s the matter with me re Kansas?
I don’t come to these predictions lightly, and I fervently hope that I am wrong and the GOP tide becomes a tsunami. But as an analyst, I have to look carefully at the overall trends and at each race and try to get it right. Both approaches yield roughly the same outcome.
First, the overall tide is not as mightily favorable for the Republicans as some suppose. For the past 20 years, what I call the 70 percent rule has applied. That means that one party will win about 70 percent of all the seats “in play.” I define these as seats rated either as a toss-up or as almost sure to change parties by Charlie Cook or Stu Rothenberg. Applying this rule to the House, one finds a gain of either ten (Rothenberg) or eleven (Cook). Applying it to the Senate, I get a gain of six regardless of source.
This approach has proven roughly accurate, but a broader approach suggests the possibility of greater gains. In some elections, the winning party wins up to 80 percent of the seats in play. As applied to the all-important Senate, this suggests a Republican gain of seven or eight. My review of the individual races suggests a gain of seven is likeliest to be correct. A deep dive into the polling suggest that Cory Gardner (Colo.) will win narrowly while Thom Tillis (N.C.), Pat Roberts (Kan.), and Scott Brown (N.H.) will lose by somewhat larger margins.
Colorado: Most polls have Cory Gardner ahead by a couple of points, which has led most Republican observers to think the race is in the bag. This simple overview, however, ignores the particular difficulty of polling the Centennial State. Colorado is home to a number of Hispanics who remain non-proficient in English. Pollsters who are not skilled at interviewing Spanish speakers are likely not to include them in their samples, which creates two results. First, it undercounts the number of Hispanics in the likely electorate. Second, and more important, it overstates Gardner’s likely share of the Hispanic vote, as English-speaking Hispanics are significantly likelier to be wealthier, and therefore vote Republican, than their Spanish-speaking kin.
The crosstabs for the publicly available polls clearly display this phenomenon. The crosstabs for the white population on the Huffington Post’s poll-aggregation site as of November 1 only narrowly disagree about Gardner’s share. Throwing out the Quinnipiac poll, whose crosstabs for both whites and Hispanics are so far out of historic patterns as to be unbelievable, Gardner’s share of the white vote varies between 51 and 47 percent. Once one assigns the undecided vote to Gardner on roughly a two-to-one margin, which is how they have tended to break over the years in races with unpopular incumbents, one obtains a final estimated white vote for Gardner of between 54 and 51 percent. Third-party candidates should get around 5 percent of the white vote, leaving Mark Udall with between 41 and 45 percent.
This sounds good for Gardner until you compare those shares to the recent losing campaigns of Mitt Romney and Ken Buck. The exit polls showed Buck winning 51 percent and Romney 54 percent of Colorado whites, yet both lost their races because their share of the Hispanic vote was below 30 percent. Buck’s campaign is most analogous to Gardner’s because he, too, faced third-party candidates who received about 5 percent of the white vote, yet his seven-point margin among whites was not enough to beat Udall. Thus, Gardner’s share of the Hispanic vote is likely to be crucial in determining the outcome.
The polls here wildly disagree. Hispanics are only about 14 percent of the adult citizen population, so in virtually every poll their sample size is a relatively miniscule 140 or less. This total is so small as to be a very unreliable guide as to their actual intention, which is perhaps why the polls disagree so much. In any event, the polls show a Gardner share ranging from a high of 44 percent to a low of 20 percent. Four have Gardner at or above the magic 30 percent share that will virtually ensure his election; four have him below that, averaging 24 percent.
Averaging all the crosstabs, including those that do not break out Hispanics but instead lump them with other minorities into a “non-white” crosstab, after allocating the undecided vote yields a 63–33 Udall margin among non-whites. Doing the same for whites provides a 51.5–43.5 margin for Gardner. If you then assume the electorate will be about 80 percent white (one point less white than in 2010, two points more than in 2012), these figures produce a narrow 48–47 win for Gardner.
On election night, the surest historical way to see who will win is to look at the returns from Jefferson County, which contains Denver’s western suburbs. Its margins have mirrored the state’s within a couple of tenths of a point either way for the last few elections. Since Colorado is now an all-mail-in state, the returns posted around 9:30 Eastern should contain nearly all of Jefferson County’s ballots and hence be an excellent early guide to who will prevail.
North Carolina: The Tarheel State is like Colorado in that the exact degree of support among the various demographic subgroups is crucial to understand if one wants to accurately predict the winner. Here the key groups are whites and blacks, and the key numbers are 34 and 20. If Kay Hagan gets 34 percent of the white vote and blacks constitute at least 20 percent of the electorate, she will win.
All the polls to date suggest she will meet those targets. Five of the eight public polls for which racial crosstabs are available have her at or above 34 percent of the white vote; the others have her at 31, 31, and 32 percent. Once the undecided vote is allocated on the 2–1 anti-incumbent basis described above, Hagan reaches the 34 percent threshold in all surveys.
The black vote is also highly likely to break 20 percent. It was 23 percent in 2008 and 2012, and all of the polls have blacks constituting 20 percent or more of the likely electorate.
Hagan will get under 50 percent, but Tillis’s unpopularity means she does not need to win a majority. Most polls show both candidates to be more disliked than liked, and most also show Tillis more unpopular than Hagan. As a result, Libertarian Sean Haugh is predicted to receive about 5 percent of the vote, enough to allow Hagan to win with a plurality by a comfortable three to five points.
Kansas: Kansas has not elected a non-Republican to the Senate since 1932. I think that streak will end Tuesday, because Pat Roberts has been unpopular throughout the cycle. He did not even win a majority in the GOP primary against a weak and underfunded opponent, has confessed to not spending much time in the Sunflower State for years, and seems to be the epitome of the tired incumbent caught napping. Independent Greg Orman is the de facto Democrat in this race, since the Democrats wisely got their nominee to drop out when it became clear only a united front could defeat Roberts. While there are a couple of polls that show Roberts barely in front, there is no poll that shows him receiving more than 46 percent of the vote. By Election Day, it’s a good rule of thumb that most undecided voters will not break to the incumbent.
New Hampshire: Very quietly, the Granite State has moved from being New England’s GOP bastion to being a very light blue state. Former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown has run a good race after some initial stumbles, but he’s fighting against the state’s slight partisan lean and an incumbent who remains popular and well-known. Only two polls show Brown ahead or tied, and both have samples that are 35 percent or more Republican. Exit polls show the share of Republicans in recent years has been between 27 (2008, 2012) and 30 (2010) percent. All the polls with the GOP share of the electorate in that range have Shaheen comfortably ahead. Expect her to win by between 1.5 and 4 points on Tuesday.
Georgia and Louisiana: Both of these states require runoffs if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote on Tuesday. All the polls in both states suggest this will happen, but they also suggest Republicans Bill Cassidy and David Perdue will win.
“IT WAS THE SEASON OF LIGHT”
Predicting individual House races is very hard because of the lack of publicly available polling information. District demographics often provide a good guide of the type of districts that will move in one direction or another, and this year most of the districts in play come in four types. The indications from national polling and individual-seat analysis suggest strong GOP gains, which will likely will cause the party to equal or exceed its post–New Deal House high-water mark.
The first type of district was carried by Romney but held by Democrats in 2012. Two open seats in this category (UT 4 and NC 7) are not being seriously contested by the Democrats. Five other such seats — AZ 1, AZ 2, GA 12, MN 7, and WV 3 — are being contested and will be close. I expect the Republicans will win three of these five, but public polling in AZ 2 has Democrat Ron Barber ahead. If the GOP wins four or five of these contested seats, their House gains are very likely to be higher than I have predicted.
The second type is made up of seats the GOP is defending. One, CA 31, was carried in a fluke two years ago and is widely thought to be a sure Democratic gain. Two others, CO 6 (held by Mike Coffman) and NY 11 (Michael Grimm) were narrowly carried by President Obama, but in both the incumbents have fought back much better than expected and are thought to be likely to retain their seats. The other four seriously in play are FL 2 (Steve Southerland), IA 3 (open), NE 2 (Lee Terry), and AR 2 (open). Most observers would not be surprised if Democrats won any of these seats. In the end, I think the GOP is likely to lose just Terry’s Omaha-based seat, because he has shown himself to be a weak candidate for many cycles and the district is not Republican enough to elect him despite this.
The third group is where the action is. These are seats narrowly carried by Obama and held by Democrats. These seats run the demographic gamut from upscale suburbanites (NY 1 and 18; NH 1; CA 7 and 52), blue-collar Democratic towns and rural areas (NY 21, IL 12, MN 8), and Latino Miami (FL 26). Polling and the general-election trend suggest Republicans will do very well in this group. I have the GOP winning eight of these nine districts.
A fourth group of seats in play are Democratic-held seats that Obama won with 53 percent or more. These include CA 26, HI 1, IA 1 and 2, IL 10, MA 6, ME 2, NH 2, NY 24, and NV 4. No incumbent Republican holds a seat this Democratic except Gary Miller (CA-31), and his is the seat that will almost surely flip this time. Voters increasingly are voting for House members belonging to the same party as the presidential candidate they support. The swing to the GOP does not strike me as being strong enough to break this pattern, although it is possible one or two might flip for local, transient reasons.
“IT WAS THE SEASON OF DARKNESS”
Republicans are not as well-positioned to pick up gubernatorial seats this year. That’s in part because the wave of 2010 helped them to win governorships in states like Maine that have not voted for Republicans recently, and in part because a number of governors (cough — Tom Corbett — cough) have not fared well in office. Nevertheless, so many races are close that it’s possible the GOP could break even or even gain one or two.
There are two telling patterns that emerge if my predictions are correct. First, Republicans will hold the governor’s mansion in every state in the industrial Midwest save Minnesota. Since these states are key swing states in the 2016 presidential race, studying how these governors won their seats should be high on every potential nominee’s priority list. Second, the seats Republicans are likely to lose have a common thread — business executives who find politics difficult (Florida) or incumbents who cut taxes on the rich or on particular corporations too much (Kansas, Alaska). It’s not that tax cutting is unpopular — the likely GOP victors in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin all cut taxes. The difference between the GOP winners and losers who cut taxes comes down to the differences in the cuts they pushed through.
“IT WAS THE SPRING OF HOPE; IT WAS THE WINTER OF DESPAIR”
WHAT IT MEANS FOR 2016
Many observers on both sides of the aisle will be tempted to read wide-ranging meaning into Tuesday’s results. I think that is wrong. The most striking feature of Tuesday’s results will be how similar they are to the 2012 results, which in turn were similar to the 2008 returns, which in turns bear striking similarities to the 2004 and 2000 races. America is, and has been for almost 15 years, roughly divided between two camps fighting for the country’s soul. The balance between these camps will turn very slightly to the GOP after Tuesday, but this by no means presages some sort of establishment or tea-party wave that will inevitably carry the party back to the White House. 2016 victory will instead rely on the GOP breaking the mold that has made America a political house divided. The midterm results, carefully analyzed, give us clues as to what this renewed conservatism might look like.
This is clear if we look at the two points noted in the section discussing the gubernatorial races. There is nothing in these races that supports the sort of 2016 narrative that either the establishment or the Tea Party would like to write. Instead, they point to a winning brand of conservatism that borrows from both factions but ultimately finds its roots in the thoughts and acts of Ronald Reagan.
Tea-partiers and movement conservatives should take comfort from a few facts. First, social issues did not hurt any Republican running in a swing state. Joni Ernst and Scott Walker were attacked for views on abortion that were on the right of the pro-life consensus; both will win. Support for “personhood” threw Cory Gardner off track, but by moving toward the pro-life consensus (opposition to abortion with a couple of standard exceptions) he deflected the controversy. Gay-marriage opposition did not hurt any Republican in a purple state. The establishment view that conservative social issues are a vote loser is, in states Republicans can win at the national level, simply wrong.
Candidates who ran strongly on principles did not lose either. Again, Joni Ernst is the example par excellence of this. Democrats remain incredulous that some of her very conservative views have seemed to leave no political damage. Other candidates have remained staunch in their opposition to Obamacare. Voters seem to respect candidates who stand for something and can explain why they believe what they do.
Nevertheless, establishment Republicans will be able to point to the midterm victory as a ratification of their strategy. They successfully selected electorally experienced center-right candidates for almost every Senate race and beat back the few tea-party-funded challengers who emerged. These nominees avoided the self-imposed mortal wounds that cost the GOP up to five Senate seats in 2010 and 2012. Their calm and discipline allowed the races to be focused on the Democrats and President Obama. Reince Priebus and Karl Rove will have many reasons to celebrate their efforts.
But this does not mean a similar recipe is likely to succeed in 2016. President Obama will not be on the ballot, and the Democratic nominee will be able to argue she or he will not simply be a continuation of the prior administration. More important, the type of economic policies favored by establishment Republicans is not likely to be favored by voters in swing states.
Comprehensive tax reform — lower rates, primarily for the top bracket, paid for by broadening the base — is an establishment priority. However, the two GOP candidates who actually passed state versions of this policy, North Carolina house speaker Thom Tillis and Kansas governor Sam Brownback, will have lost their races in red states or at best won with much more difficulty than they should have had. In each case, limiting the growth (or in Kansas, causing a significant drop) in tax revenues meant that spending on popular programs like K–12 education had to be restrained or cut. Even in red states, voters like spending on universal programs that they believe work well for them.
This fact runs into the second problem with establishment economic policy, the priority accorded to reforming entitlements. Social Security and Medicare need to be reformed, but they are the epitome of the universal program that people think works for them. Potential establishment candidates like Ohio senator Rob Portman and former Florida governor Jeb Bush are already calling for tax and entitlement reform as the twin pillars of their growth strategy. This ignores what the successful governors who ran for reelection in swing states actually did.
To a person, these governors endorsed Medicaid expansion or, in the case of Scott Walker, increased the number of people receiving government-subsidized health insurance by using a combination of the state Medicaid program and the federal exchange. New Mexico governor Susanna Martinez, often thought of as a potential vice-presidential nominee, set up her own state exchange and expanded Medicaid without any objections. Michigan governor Rick Snyder signed a bill increasing the state’s minimum wage, and Scott Walker has been campaigning on a pledge to freeze tuition at Wisconsin universities, a pledge that will require increased state spending to keep the universities going. Governors Walker, Snyder, and Kasich all cut taxes, but they did so in the classic Reaganesque way: by lowering taxes on everyone through the use of increased tax credits or special exemptions in addition to rate cuts so that the benefits would be widely spread and not concentrated at the top. They all eschewed the “broaden the base/lower the rates” approach advocated by establishment types in Washington.
It’s not like these governors have been do-nothing, “me too” types. Scott Walker famously took on the state’s powerful public-sector unions and won. Governor Snyder signed a right-to-work bill, enraging Michigan’s still-powerful autoworkers union. As noted, all cut taxes and limited the growth of spending. None, though, have engaged in the sort of comprehensive government restructuring the establishment economic playbook would recommend.
If anything, these facts should anger tea partiers even more. Yet they, too, need to recognize the limits of the public’s willingness to embrace rapid reform of programs seen as helpful. One of the major reasons President Obama has become unpopular is the sense that he is fighting for issues (climate change, Obamacare) that don’t help the average person in the here and now. For most people right now, the tax code and old age retirements are working. Making serious reforms to these policies the major Republican focus runs the serious risk of making the GOP seem to be more interested in ideological crusades than in helping the average person today achieve his or her dreams.
By 2016, most voters below the top 20 to 30 percent of the income distribution will have had nearly 20 years of real wage stagnation. Many are slipping into dependency on government programs like disability insurance and food stamps; others are working harder just to stay in place. They remain supportive of free enterprise and suspicious of government regulation and economic direction, but they wonder when the benefits of growth will flow down to them. They increasingly see the economic system as primarily of benefit to the rich.
Even worse for the GOP, they largely view the Republicans as the party that represents the rich.
Hillary Clinton’s candidacy will likely make this problem worse. While it’s true that she and her family have benefited immensely from connections and favors flowing from their political power, it’s also true that the last time most voters saw real income gains occurred during her husband’s presidency. It will not be hard for her to wrap this mantle around her, claiming that when her family lived in the White House, taxes on the rich and income for average people both went up.
HOW TO MAKE THE WORST OF TIMES INTO THE BEST
We live in a populist moment. We cannot avoid this, and we must not pretend that it is not so. Instead, we must understand what the populism of the moment demands so we can harness it for conservative ends.
Populism is at heart always a conservative impulse. I wrote about this at length a few years ago, but to summarize, populism always seeks a restoration of something that once existed and has been lost. In the current crisis, Americans want the sense and the reality that their values and their economic well-being are what their leaders are fighting for.
Populism also always seeks an enemy, a person or a group that has taken control of government to wield it in his or her own narrow interests. For better or for worse, the wage stagnation of the past two decades has already given rise to the idea that that group is the rich. The Democrats want to argue that the way the wealthy have seized government to their benefit is through deregulation and tax cuts. The GOP temptation is to fight the Democrats on this ground alone, accepting that these are the issues but contending they are forces for good, not ill. That would be unwise, because it lets our adversary choose the field of battle and select the weapons with which the battle will be fought.
We should instead offer our own version of what has gone wrong, focused on the traditional conservative value of work. Simply put, America is stagnating because liberal government policies are putting Americans out of work and forcing American companies to look overseas.
Obamacare is the first and most prominent example of such a policy. Its rules and regulations encourage employers to cut the hours worked by many employees. Its price controls and forced restructuring of the health-care sector will further encourage job losses. The fact that Obamacare is forcing Americans to pay more for insurance coverage they neither want nor need is icing on the cake. Obamacare’s repeal, and its replacement with a plan that offers increased health-insurance coverage without government control or mandates, should be the first plank in any nominee’s platform.
Our safety net tempts Americans on the margin to choose dependency over work. I don’t simply mean welfare or other anti-poverty programs here. Disability-insurance programs are exploding in enrollment and in cost. Between Social Security Disability, Supplemental Security Income, and Veterans’ Administration disability programs, the federal government will pay over $300 billion next year to nearly 20 million Americans. Nearly half of the decline in the labor-force-participation rate can be attributed to the rise in demand for these programs since 2008. These programs have liberal eligibility requirements and most provide aid only if the recipient does not work. This encourages Americans on the edge to forgo work and rely on the taxpayer, which in turn helps to create regional labor shortages for low- and medium-skilled jobs that employers turn to immigrants to fill. Any serious work agenda must comprehensively review and revamp these programs so that American citizens who want a decent job and income get a hand up rather than a handout.
Immigration and free trade are the elephants on the factory floor here, and any serious work agenda must address them. America benefits immensely from both, but the gains and pains are not evenly spread. A winning GOP nominee must ensure that opportunities for citizens are increased, and that probably means reforming our unemployment, Medicaid, and housing policies to encourage Americans to move from slow-growth areas to high-growth regions.
Conservatives encouraged portability of health insurance in the 1990s; we should encourage portability of government benefits — combined with stronger work requirements and incentives — today to give American workers a real chance for American jobs. We should be open to the immigrants we need, but also level the playing field for native Americans who can do the jobs but are being lured by government to stay in communities that have seen better days.
It also means championing education reform in both the K–12 and higher-ed sectors that increases flexibility and competition. The idea here is not simply to increase the number of kids who graduate from college. Instead, the focus must be on what markets do best — giving people the product or service they want or need at a price they can afford. For many Americans, that means more technical education in high school and a shorter, more focused higher education that does not involve attending a big four-year university with tenured faculty.
Work can also be expanded by freeing employers. Deregulation remains, for the most part, both popular and helpful. Increased energy exploration is also popular and provides the sort of higher-paid, blue-collar jobs Americans are starved for. Tax cuts for corporations, so long as they are fairly targeted and not viewed as giveaways to one firm or industry, also retain bipartisan, commonsense appeal. Canada’s conservatives have governed for nine years and used their tenure to unleash natural-resource development and lower the top combined federal-provincial top corporate rate to 26 percent (our federal top rate alone is 39 percent). They have not lowered the top individual rate, but they have produced an economy that is growing faster and providing more good jobs than ours. Why can’t America’s conservatives promise the same thing?
Note that I have not used the word “growth.” Americans don’t want “growth” in the abstract; they want jobs and wages in the concrete. The policies I’ve described above can be called “growth” and “labor-force deregulation” policies, but that is the sort of wonkish wordsmithing our nominees have too often used in the past. Americans want good jobs, in America, for Americans. We’re the party and the movement to give it to them.
I have said nothing about lowering the top rate or reforming the two largest entitlements. That’s in part because of the political arguments set out above, but also because they seem to me to be of secondary import — they pertain to problems we could face 20 years from now, not to problems we face today. For conservatives who care about budget balance, reform to the entitlements and programs I’ve mentioned above will save more money faster than will entitlement reforms whose budget savings will, of political necessity, be reaped ten or more years in the future. My proposed reforms also address the real problem Americans face now, a government that under the guise of compassion idles citizens and penalizes investment in America while giving new jobs to foreigners, whether they live here or abroad.
My priorities also address basic questions of fairness. Social Security Disability Insurance, for example, is paid for by our Social Security taxes. These are not paid for by the rich; workers don’t pay Social Security taxes on salary above $117,000 a year. These taxes are the primary ones middle-class families pay every year. Every dollar someone gets in SSDI checks is taken from a taxes middle class families pay for a retiree; in effect, people who could work but instead get SSDI put the retirement of those who do work at risk. So long as any reform, like welfare reform did, combines the sticks of tightened eligibility requirements with the carrots of subsidies and assistance to help people find and stay in work, the public should approve.
Tax and budget policies we propose should also focus more on the average person than on the top bracket. They should also communicate a clear message of fairness. People who need help should get it, through the tax code or otherwise. People who don’t, shouldn’t, whether they are getting special tax breaks or corporate welfare. Translated into specifics, we should offer the types of tax cuts that successful midwestern governors have, rather than comprehensive tax reform whose primary focus is to get the top rate even lower.
Those should involve the sort of increased child tax credits and Earned Income Tax Credit expansions championed by Senators Mike Lee and Marco Rubio. They can be paid for by removing tax provisions that give help to people who don’t need it and by seriously cutting corporate welfare. There is no reason someone making $300,000 a year needs an implicit subsidy in the form of a mortgage-interest deduction to buy a house, especially when the tax code is written such that a family making $50,000 gets no housing assistance. There is no reason farmers earning $250,000 a year should get taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance to protect their main asset when average families have to pay out of their own pocket for homeowner’s insurance to protect their main asset.
The amount of special assistance that flows mainly to the rich or the upper middle class or to politically connected industries is huge. We can channel the populist moment toward freer markets, more jobs for Americans, and increasing globalization if we can seize the moment and not substitute dogma for principle.
Making the GOP the party of work communicates that we stand with the worker, i.e., the voter. We don’t stand with them against the employer, but we also don’t think that America is doing well if business is doing well while the average American suffers or stagnates. Rising stock markets mean nothing to someone who can’t get a raise, a promotion, or a job. That, unfortunately, is what life for most Americans has been even during the brief period of growth during the Bush administration. It’s time the GOP applied its principles to the problems of our time rather than continually advancing policies better suited to the problems of the 1980s.
“IT WAS THE EPOCH OF BELIEF”
I think that’s the sort of outlook Ronald Reagan would have if he were with us today. Pete Wehner and I recently wrote about Reagan’s lessons for today’s conservatives and Republicans. We note that Reagan was someone who believed innately in the dignity of every human being. He favored giving people the financial means to afford things like retirement security, health insurance, and higher education if they needed it. He strenuously opposed government attempts to channel resources to favorites or to force people into mandatory, prescriptive government programs and regulations. In short, he was someone who did not fit neatly into today’s “establishment” and “Tea Party” categories, but instead transcended and united both.
Reagan was famous for believing in the ability of average Americans to rise to the challenges of their times. He did not believe America was a land of “makers and takers,” unless the makers were all of us and the takers were the elite few who sought to use power to bend us to their will. In his first inaugural address, he championed entrepreneurs and workers, calling them all “heroes” who had the right to “dream heroic dreams”.
I read the midterms results — indeed, the results of most elections of the last two decades — as calls for that spirit to again guide America. Americans do not want a land where government orders and we obey. Americans do not want a land where bosses order and we submit. Americans want a land where hard work is amply rewarded and expected for high and for low; where people who need help get a hand up and those who don’t get hands-off.
Conservatives more than liberals can offer Americans that vision. It’s in our hearts, it’s in our minds, it’s in our bones. All we need do to break the political stalemate is to put that spirit into our voices and onto our lips. If we speak in words and with ideas Americans understand, they will follow. To quote Ronaldo Maximus, “if not us, who? If not now, when?”
— Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.