“The only thing the ‘prevent defense’ does it prevent you from winning,” quipped legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden. Conservatives, therefore, should be terrified to read this week that the House Republican leadership’s goal for September is “to play prevent defense,” according to The Hill newspaper.
The Republican leadership’s logic is tempting at first glance: Conservatives have reason to be cautiously optimistic about the 2014 elections. Unfortunately, this initial temptation does not stand up to stricter scrutiny. The reason Republicans are in a good position for this election is because they created a favorable contrast between themselves and the President in 2013, the election is too close at this point to coast, and Republicans need more than just a narrow victory to feel confident about their chances after 2016.
Conservatives had an extremely successful year in 2013. Conservatives stymied President Obama’s gun control agenda, prevented major tax increases following on the fiscal cliff tax hikes, spent most of the year defending the sequester spending cuts before they were foolishly thrown away at the end of the year, and – most importantly – kept the country focused on the disaster that is Obamacare.
These were important policy goals and, as former House Majority Leader Dick Armey famously pointed out, “good policy is good politics.” President Obama started 2013 with a 53.4 percent approval rating in the RealClearPolitics average of polls. He ended the year at 42.6 percent. Similarly, Democrats started the year with a +7 percentage point advantage on the Generic Congressional Ballot. By year end, that lead had evaporated.
Unfortunately, the Republican momentum has stalled in 2014. With a less robust congressional agenda, Republicans have made no further gains by either metric and Democrats have stabilized the patient. This unfortunate reality is underscored by the fact several months ago many prominent commentators were predicted a wave election this year, but today many more are predicting that the wave is not materializing.
Many in the Republican political class are telling their supporters not to worry about the reduced chances of a wave. Speaking on FoxNewsSunday two weeks ago, GOP pollster Bill McInturff stated: “there’s a lot of things that say the ‘wave,’ is not there, but it’s very important to say, guess what, Republicans pick up seats in the House and I believe the Senate without ‘a wave,’ and I think that’s the key to the cycle.”
The Republicans, of course, are not even trying to catch a wave. They won’t even paddle. And as tempting as it is every cycle for Republicans to keep their heads down and not make themselves the issue, this election is far too close.
And, even if we could win the Senate with less than our strongest showing, conservatives shouldn’t be willing to rest on a narrow victory with around 24 of the 34 seats up for reelection currently held by the GOP. Winning the Senate today is but a temporary victory if we give it back to the Democrats in 2016.
Serious parties have governing agendas. Keeping your head down is not a governing agenda. A Republican Party that laid out a persuasive, positive agenda which provided opportunity for all Americans, but favoritism to none could win 55 Senate seats this cycle and hold those victories in 2016. It would start making the case that it stands for this agenda by allowing the Export-Import Bank to expire this year, reforming the tax code next year, and fighting the corrupt special interests that invade every aspect of our nation’s government.
Great Republican victories happen when the party stands for good policy. Nancy Pelosi would never tell her troops to play a prevent defense. There’s still time for Republicans to get on offense and it’s more necessary than ever to get America back on track. The problem with government is not Democrats in charge of it, but government itself. The American people realize this more and more every day. It is time for the GOP to build a campaign around that.