With an unpopular president in office and many congressional seats up for grabs, the Democratic high command is fundraising with a vengeance, hoping to swamp the 2014 midterms with dollars and attack ads to retain control of the Senate. So what should Republicans do? Here are some suggestions.
• Remember why the GOP lost Congress in 2006. In the summer of 2005, a Republican pollster told me of detecting disillusionment among a significant segment of George W. Bush voters. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continued, but by June her polls showed that spending and debt were a high priority for these voters. Many had embraced Republicans as the party of reform. But bridges to nowhere, earmarks, rising debt and inaction on unfunded entitlement liabilities took their toll. By 2006, reminding voters of Bill Clinton’s second-term surpluses, Democrats presented themselves as the real reformers and won.
• Remember why the GOP won back the House in 2010. In 2008, Barack Obama‘s “Hope and Change” campaign continued the Democrats’ reform theme. Disaffected Bush voters still wanted to teach Republicans a lesson. What they got were more bailouts, record spending bills, record deficits and ObamaCare. Shocked, in 2010 they returned the House to the GOP—but thanks in part to inept candidates, not to the Senate.
• Learn from Mitt Romney . Government reform was again a high priority in 2012. But with tea party firebrands on the rise, the Romney-Ryan campaign’s “Believe in America” message never really spoke to reform-minded voters. In all, seven million potential Republican voters stayed home or declined to cast a presidential ballot. The lesson? Promising “tax reform” or “immigration reform” without clearly articulating specific proposals is a losing strategy.
• Don’t get rattled when Democrats talk about a GOP war on women and minorities.Throw the charge back at them. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics and census data, the number of women and minorities in the workforce today has barely budged from six years ago, and both groups have seen their incomes drop. The Democrats’ tax-and-spend-and-regulate regime has failed women and minorities. Who is at war with whom?
• What about charges of a GOP war on the middle class? Throw that back at them, too. Democrats’ Exhibit A will be the work of Thomas Piketty. The celebrity French economist has painted a picture of stagnating middle-class wages and rising income inequality in the U.S. from 1979 to 2007.
But in 2012 a team of economists led by Cornell’s Richard Burkhauser revealed the flaws in Mr. Piketty’s methods and conclusions. While Mr. Piketty relied on pretax data, Mr. Burkhauser’s team used after-tax income, noncash benefits and other factors to get a better picture of U.S. incomes. They concluded that median American income had increased 37% from just before Ronald Reagan’s presidency (1979) and to the year before the end of George W. Bush’s (2007) and that income inequality had held steady from the early ’90s. Meanwhile, income inequality has soared in the Obama years thanks to dismal economic growth rates and persistent unemployment.
• Bring up the Democrats’ war on the young. Administration-initiated taxes, regulations and restrictions on credit have dramatically slowed new business creation and growth, the source of most new jobs. The result is that unemployment and underemployment now tops 25% among recent college graduates and 68% for young high-school graduates.
• Be the party of national security.Ask this variation on a familiar question: “Are we safer now than we were six years ago?” Voters are alarmed about the rise of Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s challenges and a president who doesn’t seem to have a strategy for dealing with any of it. The question also applies to the administration’s failure to secure our borders, which are a gateway for illegal immigrants and potential terrorists.
• Don’t forget ObamaCare. Calls for “repeal and replace” are fine. But replace with what? First, give individuals and companies the same insurance-purchase tax break so individuals can buy policies without employers as middlemen. Second, remove interstate barriers to buying and selling insurance to increase competition. Third, expand Health Savings Accounts to reduce the role of insurance middlemen. And fourth, keep a safety net for the very poor.
Voters who broke from the GOP in 2006 and 2008 and stayed home in 2012 want candidates who, when they criticize, have an alternative policy. Knowing where you want to take the country and having ideas for getting there are the keys to winning in 2014.
Mr. Judge is managing director of the White House Writers Group Inc. and chairman of the Pacific Research Institute.