I rarely disagree with John, and I consider this a good sign for me. However, I don’t believe that the GOP is America’s Party, in the sense of being ascendant nationally, or that the Republican brand is strong.
I view the two elections that made Republicans ascendant in the Senate and House — 2010 and 2014 — as referenda on President Obama, not as evidence that the electorate trusts Republicans to govern. It clearly wants the GOP to obstruct Democratic governance, at least in its current form, but that’s not the same thing as trusting Republicans to run the show.
“Divided government” is the only brand that seems to be flourishing right now. Only by winning back the presidency in 2016 and holding the Senate can the GOP consider itself to be flourishing at the national level.
Fortunately, the GOP can accomplish this without having a strong brand. Its brand need only be better than the Democrats’.
But it’s not clear that the Republican brand meets even this low threshold in any enduring sense. Freed from the albatross of the Obama presidency, the Democrats can reasonably expect to be competitive in any presidential election, including the upcoming one. After all, the Republican presidential nominee has only won a plurality of the popular vote once in the last six elections.
Moreover, public opinion polls don’t provide much encouragement when it comes to the GOP brand. In a CBS News poll taken in late October, the public viewed congressional Republicans unfavorably by a 21-69 margin. In June, a Pew survey put the GOP’s favorability rating at 37 percent.
Tuesday’s election results belie these numbers to some degree, but not to the point that Republicans should feel comfortable about the party’s image.
Republicans do have several advantages over Democrats. I agree with John that the GOP better reflects American aspirations and values. The GOP isn’t attempting radically to transform America; it is more of a restorative party.
Politically, this is may be a mixed blessing, given the quickly changing demographics of the country and the left’s aggressive and partially successful assault on traditional values. But it’s still an advantage.
Republican success at the state level is also relevant. To the extent that Republican legislatures and able governors like Scott Walker and John Kasich succeed, voters will tend to view the GOP as the party of good government and sound policy. It will then be easier to persuade the electorate that this view also applies at the national level. However, the party’s conduct in Washington will always be the decisive consideration.
Accordingly, the main thing now is for congressional Republicans to behave like a party that can be trusted to run the show. What does this mean in concrete terms? For the beginning of an answer, consult Charles Krauthammer’s latest column.