By Craig Robinson
The consensus following the 2012 elections was that Mitt Romney ran a technically flawed campaign and was a poor messenger for the GOP, and thus he lost what many thought was a winnable race. The Romney campaign was also blamed for other Republican shortcomings on the ballot, especially a number of U.S. Senate contests across the country.
While Romney’s shortcomings did have an impact on other races beyond his own, if Mitt Romney was what ailed the Republican Party, why does it still feel like the GOP is muddling through some of the darkest times since the Watergate scandal? Republicans have shaken off a lackluster presidential campaign before. In fact, Republicans got over John McCain in 2008 rather quickly, yet there are currently no signs that the GOP is about to get back up on its feet following the 2012 campaign.
Of course, Republicans had to deal with the ramifications of McCain’s failed candidacy, namely stimulus spending, bailouts, and government-controlled healthcare under the Obama administration. But, as bad as those policies were, they also motivated Republicans to work together.
Despite the poor results in 2008, Republicans made major gains in states all around the county and in Congress where Republican’s gained control of the House of Representatives. This provided the GOP an emergency break of sorts against the Obama agenda that was being approved at a record pace with the Democrats controlling the House, Senate, and Oval Office.
Since being disappointed on Election Day, Republicans have been on the losing side on issues ranging from taxes and spending, to debt and gun control. These are the very issues that have united Republicans of every stripe for years, yet somehow the GOP has struggled to successfully communicate some of its core principles in the shadow of the fiscal cliff and the Newtown tragedy.
After the November 6 election, many pundits and media personalities declared that Republicans must embrace new, softer positions on issues like immigration, abortion, and gay marriage to remain relevant. However, capitulating core principles would do more to damage the party than to help it win future elections.
Perhaps the advice that the GOP needed to hear following the 2012 election was that they should focus on governing and forget about politics for a while. Focusing on governing in Washington, D.C. is difficult when Democrats control the Senate and the White House, but it’s not impossible. One way that Congressional Republicans can govern is to address the major issues with specific pieces of legislation one at a time instead proposing or opposing omnibus bills that contain just enough good things to make you agree to support the bad things the bill contains.
For example, when Americans were nervous that milk prices could soar to nine dollars a gallon because Washington couldn’t come to an agreement on a new farm bill, Republicans could have simply proposed a bill that would have addressed that specific problem.
Republicans should have attempted to fix the problem in the code before extending the current farm bill. Why? Because the threat of nine dollar a gallon of milk will be used in the future to get congress to agree to a bloated, pork-laced farm bill in the future. Sadly, that’s how our government is works. That is not an example of governing. Instead, it’s an example of extorting elected officials to pass something in order to avoid public backlash.
The milk fiasco seemed silly, but the problem with Washington is that, far too often, elected officials and lobbyists load up legislation with stuff that doesn’t belong there. Many Americans were probably shocked by the refusal of House Speaker John Boehner to pass the $60 billion relief package for victims of Hurricane Sandy, but Boehner was wise not to green light it. The Sandy relief bill contained $11 billion for future public transportation projects, not disaster relief that was actually related to the storm. It also contained $150 million for fisheries in Alaska among other things.
You get the point. Even though Republicans only control the House of Representatives, they can win the public relations battle by addressing problems with simple legislative fixes instead of huge omnibus bills. Republicans claim to be the party that wants spending reform in Washington, and this would certainly change the way business is done in our nation’s capitol and finally put an end to frivolous spending.
Here in Iowa, Republicans have the ability to actually govern. They don’t act like it, but Republicans are the majority party in the state of Iowa. They control the Iowa House, Governor’s office, State Auditor’s office, Secretary of State’s office, Secretary of Agriculture’s Office and half of the delegation that represents us in Washington D.C. The people of Iowa have put Republicans in change, and we expect them to govern wisely.
Governing wisely doesn’t mean ramming ones agenda through the legislature. Instead, the legislature should be addressing issues that most Iowans are concerned about. Finding ways to stimulate economic growth across the state is still very important, but so is making Iowa more competitive with neighboring states like Nebraska and South Dakota.
If Republican legislators and Governor Branstad focus on making Iowa a better place to live, work, and raise a family, they will be in good shape for the next election. That seems easy to do, but the over past few years, Republicans have been distracted by a number of proposals that were essentially non-starters.
Two years ago at this time, a few legislators openly discussed impeaching the remaining Iowa Supreme Court Justices. The idea was going nowhere and was never even debated in committee, but the media talked about it for weeks. Some people may have enjoyed the discussion on talk radio, but in the minds of many voters, it was an example of Republicans not being focused on the issues that were of real concern to Iowans.
This legislative session has gotten off to a quieter start, and hopefully the distractions will be minimal. The distractions over the past two years have helped Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal more than anyone. Instead of Republicans putting pressure on him to pass key pieces of legislation, Republicans were kept busy arguing amongst themselves.
Governing also goes beyond the laws that are passed and the bills that are introduced for debate. Our Republican elected officials must also conduct themselves in a serious manner. It seems that some of our elected officials take extreme positions because it makes them popular with activists and helps them raise money.
If there is one thing that is hurting Republicans these days, it’s that they have forgotten that the goal in winning elections is earning the ability to govern. Even though Iowa Republicans didn’t make the gains they expected in the Iowa Senate and lost seats in the Iowa House, the people of Iowa have still given them the ability to govern. The best thing that Republicans can do in times like this is get busy addressing the major issues that people are concerned about. If they do that, they may be able to govern their way out of the darkness.
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