John Fund takes a look at why the GOP lost Dennis Hastert’s former House seat. The Republican Party is going to face an uphill battle this fall to begin with—and the ham-handed way in which this election was handled does not bode well for the party as a whole. In order to win, the GOP is going to have to run smart, appeal to voters, and not pretend that a handful of negative ads will be enough to make a difference, even in Republican-leaning districts. So far, there’s not a lot of encouraging signs that the GOP is interested in running a winning campaign:
As for the $1 million the National Republican Congressional Committee poured into the district in a vain attempt to save it, the local reviews weren’t good. Even before Mr. Oberweis’ loss I heard comments such as “nasty,” “stupid,” “largely incomprehensible” and “factless” to describe the national ads that saturated the district. “The ads bore no relation to any issues competent polling would have surfaced; they were just schoolyard name calling,” was the opinion of a conservative media specialist in the district.
By way of contrast, Democrats made a heavy buy for an ad featuring local Senator Barack Obama touting Mr. Foster’s credentials as a scientist and problem solver. “He represents the change we need,” the Obama ad concluded. Obamamania may not be as strong among the general electorate as it is among Democratic partisans, but in Saturday’s special election it certainly helped the Democratic candidate score a victory. Mr. Foster’s win is a wake-up call to Republicans that this year they will have to step up their game, big time.
The GOP had a chance to take the lead on earmarks. A few courageous Representatives stood up, but the party remains behind. The GOP has a chance to take the lead on corruption, but Speaker Hastert defended corrupt politicos like William Jefferson. In such a tight election season, the GOP has to take the lead. Playing defense on the issues does not work. Attacking the other candidate does not work.
The only way that the Republicans can win is by standing on their principles, and consistent and clearly applying those principles to our nation’s problems. If the Republican Party wants to win, it has to win on the issues, and to do that the GOP has to start talking about real solutions for real world problems.
I know that Republicans by and large don’t believe the spin on global warming, and for good reason. If the GOP runs on the platform that there is no global warming, and we don’t need to take action then the GOP will lose on that issue. That’s politics. Instead, we should be advancing a 21st Century energy agenda that includes a crash program to create safe pebble bed nuclear reactors, embracing Bob Zubrin’s flex-fuel energy independence plan, and generally reduce our dependence on foreign oil while reducing CO2 emissions—without sacrificing our economy and our way of life. Think that’s hard. It is a difficult task to get these policies enacted, but to borrow a phrase from a candidate who knows the value of political rhetoric “yes we can.”
The middle class is feeling the squeeze. The GOP should have a very simple message: you have to tighten your belt during hard times. Government should do the same as well. The GOP should follow the example of brave legislators like Rep. John Kline and Sen. Tom Coburn. No earmarks. If the GOP doesn’t stand strongly against government waste, then the GOP will lose. That includes waste from military contractors. It’s a national security issue. The military procurement system is broken. The GOP needs to fix it. If we don’t lead, we lose.
That’s just two issues. I could go on forever about health care, education and other issues. The basic point stands for all of them: this is not a time for complacency. Republicans need to run like we’re 20 points down, because in some cases we are. Sen. McCain is the right man to lead on some key issues, but he has to have a forward-looking (and dare I say it, truly progressive) agenda to bring to the American people. If Obama gets the nomination, we won’t be able to win on style. Every Republican should be thinking about advancing our agenda, even if all we can do is start moving the ball in the right direction.
A party that stands for nothing but power will lose, sooner or later. The GOP needs to stand for a real agenda and make that agenda the center of every campaign, or the loss of Hastert’s old seat will be but a prologue to yet another annus horibilis for the GOP.