HAVING worked in the trenches for decades, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, is one of Oklahoma's most astute political observers. When he talks, Republicans should listen.
During a meeting with The Oklahoman's editorial board last week, Cole persuasively argued that Republicans are poised to win elections in 2014, potentially seizing full control of Congress. The ongoing debacle of Obamacare is a major factor.
Yet GOP infighting could derail the party's electoral success.
“There's a little bit of a civil war going on inside of the Republican Party, and it's not over issues,” Cole said. “That's the frustrating thing. It's not as if any Republican is for Obamacare. It's not as if any Republican is running out there saying we need to increase taxes. We are probably as unified philosophically as I've seen us in a long, long, long time, maybe since the age of Reagan; really, maybe ever. But there is a profound difference over tactics.”
Those tactical differences matter. A small faction of the GOP has embraced kamikaze maneuvers, such as the recent government shutdown. That effort reaped nothing but a lower approval rating for Republicans. Better strategic thinking that faces political reality is needed.
“We control one house. We are the minority party in Washington,” Cole said. “And just because we have the House, all that means is we can stop them. But we can't undo what was done in '09 and '10 until we get the Senate and there's a change in the president.”
Some elements of the Republican base also fail to appreciate congressional Republican achievements. Last year's fiscal-cliff deal, Cole argues, was “a real Republican triumph” given the circumstances. All Bush-era tax cuts were set to expire, yet Republicans forced Obama and congressional Democrats to permanently preserve 85 percent of those tax cuts and protect 98 percent of taxpayers from an increase (aside from expiration of a payroll tax holiday). Republicans also have held tough on the sequester budget cuts, much to Democrats' dismay.
Those are meaningful victories. Yet some factions of the Republican base insist on holding a “glass half-empty” mentality.
“One group of our party thinks there is something wrong with our Republicans in Washington,” Cole said. “This is the most conservative group of Republicans I've ever seen. We couldn't have ever passed the Paul Ryan budget when I first got there in 2003, 4, and 5. Now we've done it three years in a row.”
Indeed, Ronald Reagan would have done backflips to work with a congressional Republican caucus as conservative as today's group. Yet some supposedly conservative groups are working to defeat conservative Republicans, while barely spending a dime to oust liberal Democrats. It should go without saying, but training your guns on your own soldiers doesn't yield victory.
The enthusiasm and energy infused in the Republican base since Obama's election is a good thing. But if that enthusiasm is used only to threaten conservative Republican incumbents or nominate unelectable GOP candidates, indirectly clearing a path for vulnerable liberal Democrats to win elections — as has happened in recent years — that energy is wasted.
Conservative voters outraged by the actions of the Obama administration have one viable strategy: Replace Democrats with Republicans. Anything else simply perpetuates liberal control of the federal government.