President Obama won the first round of his second term, but thanks to Mitch McConnell the beating wasn’t as severe as it could have been.
The period between the election and the turn of the calendar was dominated by the president, with Speaker John Boehner as his foil. The Speaker always seemed to assume the president was negotiating in good faith, even as the campaign events continued, and even as he was pummeled day and night by the president and his surrogates in the MSM.
The collapse of the Speaker's and the GOP’s ability to make an argument was complete when the silly “Plan B” stunt unfolded and then crashed and burned in front of the country last week. This is not an era of stunts, but because of new media, a time for serious argument instead. The GOP has not yet recognized the old era of secret deal-making is over and a new era of public argument begun. It is not very good at the latter, being about a light year behind when it comes to the mechanics of being heard in the new millennium.
Repetition, repetition, repetition.
And location, location, location: Every platform, every day. Just like the president.
The GOP couldn’t beat him, so it must join him in his tactical approach to issues.
The GOP did little between the election and Tuesday's passage of the tax bill to explain that the major issue facing the country is spending.
Much of the time was spent silent --wounds being nursed etc-- or talking of grand bargains or rumors of secret meetings at the White House. The Speaker, with the biggest platform not belonging to the president, didn't use it at all. The Manhattan-Beltway media elite, in love with the confrontation between the president and the Speaker, paid no attention to spending, and after the horror of Newtown covered almost nothing else.
Now the table is clear and the clock running down to the moment when the Treasury cannot borrow any more money. That is also the moment that the Defense Department-smashing sequester hits. The GOP has 60 days to outline and argue for its vision of what has to be done, especially with regards to entitlements.
It needs to be concise. It needs to be repeated. The consequences to individuals have to be spelled out.
"Social Security needs a new retirement age. Medicare needs a new eligibility age. Medicaid needs a cap. They all need reform to their cost-of-living escalators."
What also needs repeating is that there will be no more tax hikes. The president got what he campaigned for, and the revenue flowing into the government is enormous.
"Revenue to the federal government was $___ in 2008 and $____ in 2012, and is likely to be $____ in 2013. We don't have a revenue problem."
Next, the consequence of the spending --past, present, and future-- is a massive crisis. The GOP needs to spell out, again and again, how much we are paying in interest charges on that accumulated debt and what will happen to that cost as interest rates rise. Crucially, the GOP must explain what will happen when the debt limit is not raised and why it is willing to accept those consequences.
"Every senior is at risk. Every program. Every savings account."
Finally, the case for protecting the Department of Defense must be made.
"The problem is not the Department of Defense budget. We have cut, and more savings can be achieved. But our security and our prosperity depends upon our military strength and we must continue to spend close to 4% of our nation's wealth on protecting the nation."
These are not hard things to do, or difficult messages to deliver. But they must be done and sent if the country is to be ready for the showdown in late February.
Yesterday's deal, as the Washington Examiner's Philip Klein put it, was "objectively bad and relatively good." Hats off to Mitch McConnell for getting the GOP out of the box canyon and avoiding a massive tax hike for every American which I think the president was hoping would occur and which he could blame on the GOP.
If the GOP is to not only win for itself renewed credibility as the party of small government but also win for the country a reprieve from the bond vigilantes who are lurking, it must marshal its forces and deploy them in a coherent, indeed systematic fashion.
Look around every day for one of the GOP leaders –on any cable or network show, on any national talk radio program, in the pages of any newspaper. Every day one or more of them do not cross your path making the arguments above is a day that has been lost.
Keep a scorecard. In the House there is Speaker Boehner, Leader Cantor, Whip McCarthy and Budget Chairman Ryan.
In the Senate there is Leader McConnell, Whip Cornyn, and Conference Chair Thune.
These are the seven leaders of the GOP on the debt limit debate. Everyone else can make arguments and play supporting roles, but these are the big seven.
Keep count of how often you see them. The GOP is selling, or should be selling, a set of crucial solutions. If we arrive in mid-February and then the leadership attempts to argue and negotiate through the media, the GOP will have lost again. And the country.