Like most Republicans I know, I’m a big fan of quoting the likes of Lincoln and Reagan. It’s kind of trite, but there is little inspiration to be had from anyone living in the GOP today.
I never thought I’d have to resort to quoting Woody Allen to help describe what’s wrong with today’s Republican Party, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Allen famously once said that 80% of success in life is showing up. He was right. Maybe it’s not 80% but it’s certainly at least half the battle in my experience.
So much of life is about showing up or what military trainers call “being present.” Being a good friend means taking the time to show up for that birthday party or being there when someone needs a shoulder. Being a good spouse is about showing up and giving the best of yourself to your partner every day. Being a good manager is about understanding how every aspect of your enterprise works and appreciating the challenges faced by your employees.
There’s a lesson here for a national Republican Party that is still in the midst of soul-searching after the losses in 2012. Nearly a year later, the GOP still lacks a coherent vision, agenda and strategy for expanding its relevance. It’s lacking a broad-based message and the party’s leadership looks adrift despite the President’s 35% approval rating on the economy. GOP leaders in Washington continue to be played like a fiddle by the President, botching opportunities to highlight the Administration’s abuse of power and failing to put forth an aggressive plan to reduce the size of government. With more than 20 million people still out of work and the lowest workforce participation rate in decades, the GOP – the party that is supposed to carry the pro-growth agenda – has been absent. It now faces a conundrum on Syria which is also designed to highlight their inaction and insulate the President from criticism.
True, some might say that that the Speaker and Majority Leader have put forth meaningful proposals to reduce the deficit etc, but nobody knows what they are and they won’t get credit for any of them.
The first year of the President’s second term has been a combination of indecision and careful political defense. Despite that, the hapless GOP hasn’t been able to capitalize in any way. The only thing Republicans in Congress have been trying to do over these last months is defund ObamaCare and debate immigration reform. When they’re not doing those things, the supposed 2016 contenders are sniping at each other in the press and drawing battle lines within the party.
That’s not showing up. That’s not being present. Beltway listlessness coupled with the Cruz-Paul-Christie-Rubio dynamic speaks volumes about just how misplaced the energy of Republican Party leadership is heading into the mid-terms.
Instead of pushing bills that don’t have the votes to defund Obamacare and making the rounds on the Sunday talk shows, GOP elected officials should be making sure they are responding to the needs of their individual constituencies. An entire summer has come and gone. Where were the field hearings on plans to help small businesses? Where are the town halls on deficit reduction? Where were the rallies for lower taxation and getting government out of the way of job creation?
Showing up isn’t about bluster or positioning. Showing up isn’t about political maneuvering. It’s not about RINO bashing. Showing up is about being willing to lead. It’s about understanding how to craft, articulate and advance a discernible agenda. It’s about doing your job.
Christie and Paul’s debate about libertarian influence in the party isn’t irrelevant. It’s misplaced energy. As for Rubio and Cruz, you don’t ram an unworkable immigration bill through the Senate because you think it will get you the nomination and you don’t try to defund Obamacare because you think it will play well in Iowa or New Hampshire.
You don’t pick a fight with another member of your party because three years out from an election, you think it will make you look like a leader. The 2016ers have to stop trying to be somebody and start trying to do something. They need to get to work – together – to craft a record that will make voters want to vote Republican in the mid-terms or the next presidential.
The agenda, the policy and the record of results is what matters more than the terribly transparent political maneuvering that is turning off voters across the political spectrum.
Showing up also means, at times, reaching beyond your comfort zone. Type the words “African-American unemployment” into the search engine on John Boehner’s website and you’ll find the latest entry is from January 2012. The Speaker’s Office website was even worse. “Minority Unemployment” search terms don’t return a relevant result since 2011.
African-American and Latino unemployment in this country is a crisis that is disregarded by the Democrats who take those constituencies for granted. Even worse, it’s a crisis that goes ignored because solving it goes against the dependency-based ideological underpinnings of progressivism. African-American unemployment is more than double the national average. Less than 20% of black teens held a summer job this year.
It’s an opportunity for the GOP to show up. It’s time for the GOP to show up in urban environments long ignored by the party.
It’s time for GOP members of Congress, particularly those in safe seats, to start acting, voting and thinking like fiscal conservatives. It’s time for current and would-be national GOP leaders to focus on jobs, lower taxes, meaningful spending cuts and the issues the President doesn’t have the courage to address.
Why should we show up? Not because we will get the votes, but because it’s the right thing to do. Because it will show that the Party of Lincoln still cares about the average American. We need to show up to be relevant and drive the values that will preserve this nation as an example of freedom, opportunity and innovation.
Our nation’s chronic problems won’t be solved overnight and neither will those of the Republican Party. But a healthy, vibrant Republican Party is essential to maintain our Republic. It’s time it showed up and got to work.
Thomas J. Basile is a Republican political commentator. You can follow him on Twitter @TJBasile or learn more about him at www.TJBasile.com.