Americans have chosen Barack Obama and the Democratic Party to lead them at the national level for four more years, and have given them an even stronger majority in the Senate. While not much went right for conservative Republicans at the national level there were many important races and initiatives won at the state and local level.
Control of the House of Representatives and a growing number of state governments will put Republicans in a good position to be an effective opposition, “country party,” in the tradition of many of America’s most successful political movements.
The original successful “opposition” movement was, of course, the American Revolution itself, in which the Founders opposed the British government and eventually revolted due to a loss of and the fear of future attacks against liberty. American leaders and citizens blended the coherent philosophies of British Enlightenment thinkers like James Harrington, John Locke and Viscount Bolingbroke. Americans used those principles to craft American views about the evils of patronage, government corruption, natural rights and balanced government. This blend of ideas led to the Constitution and the unique federal republic system that made America both great and stronger.
The “country party” ethic lead to the political “Revolution of 1798” in which Jeffersonian Republicans fought against the centralizing, “court party” plans of the Hamiltonian Federalists, and since that time a number of political movements have flared up with similar goals and rhetoric. The Tea Party has been the newest incarnation and is perhaps the GOP’s greatest hope for a real game change in American politics.
Republicans have structural advantages in the House that could keep it solidly red until the next census in 2012, and voters on the state level have been putting Republican governors into office, even in deep blue states that Obama won comfortably. Republicans now have governors in 30 states, and most of the newest ones are strong, reform-minded leaders that reject “me too” Republicanism that causes some Republicans to govern like Democrats.
On top of governing conservatively, Republican governors will most likely have to carry on the fight against the worst aspects of ObamaCare. Many states may continue to battle ObamaCare both politically and through the courts, however there is a danger that some may resort to “nullification,” which has a particularly poor record in terms of success.
An important factor in why Republicans dominate the House of Representatives and many local races is due to the fact that conservative voters tend to live in more rural and suburban areas. The heavily populated urban centers tend to be entirely controlled by democrats. Big cities, even in the reddest states are controlled by a Democratic Party that has mastered urban machine politics. In fact there is rarely ever a Republican mayor of a big city.
Democratic voters are clustered and Republican voters are spread out, but the country is fairly evenly divided when looking at the popular vote in recent presidential elections. And if Americans have given Obama a mandate to govern, many other Americans have given the House, the branch that the Founding Fathers wished to most represent democracy, a mandate to oppose the president.
Since 2008, when Obama came into office with control of Congress, the GOP has acted as a strong and successful “oppositionist” party, united by a dislike of the president, the Democratic Party and liberal policies. The wave election in 2010 that swept Republicans into control of the House was one of the greatest electoral swings in American history. But the same factors that made conservatives strong in 2010 cannot be maintained through four more years of Obama.
Craig Shirley, author of books about Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaigns in 1976 and 1980, said that, “opposition is not a governing ideology, and unfocused anger is never a substitute for relevant conservative ideas.” Shirley said that the key to building a stronger national coalition is bringing the message of more freedom for the individual by aggressively attacking wasteful, inefficient and nearly tyrannical bureaucracies.
These ideas have worked and continue to gain popularity at the state and local level. One only needs to remember the triumph of Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin and the large number of initiatives passed in the states that reformed government employee pensions and curbed the power of public sector unions.
The school choice movement, started by conservative economist Milton Freidman, has continued to gain steam and has won many important victories on the state and local level. School choice and government reform are just some of the many and important ideas that have had success in states throughout the country, both blue and red.
If there is hope for Republican Party success it is with the contrast between liberal policies and conservative policies at the state and local levels and the hope that the American people will understand, in a very practical way, what works and what doesn’t.