Under the adage “better lucky than good,” we have Republican Joni Ernst, an Iowa U.S. Senate candidate who last week released a television ad with this cringe-worthy script: “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm. So when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.”
And to twist the knife a little: “Washington’s full of big spenders. Let’s make ’em squeal” (for a price, that is; blood-red “squeal” T-shirts are available online for a $30 donation to Ernst’s campaign).
Why the good fortune? Ernst’s ad came out at the same time her Democratic opponent, Rep. Bruce Braley, was caught on tape running down Charles Grassley, the state’s senior senator, as “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.” What perfect silage for a nonpolitician looking to brand her rival with a scarlet “A” for arrogance.
Ernst’s approach isn’t the cleverest in this election year. That honor might belong to a Senate candidate closer to California – Monica Wehby, an Oregon pediatric neurosurgeon running under the credo: “Keep your doctor, change your senator.”
Here’s another way to look at that TV ad: What happens in Iowa maybe should stay in Iowa. Porcine emasculation is guaranteed to get voters’ attention in America’s Corn Belt. But is another form of emasculation – repealing Obamacare; in effect, gelding the Obama presidency – the ticket for giving the GOP control of the Senate this fall, and two years later the 270 electoral votes needed to regain the White House?
In this regard, a Republican primary will play out in 2014 that will affect the party in 2015 and beyond. In one corner, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and his one-man crusade against the Affordable Care Act, the highlight being Cruz reading “Green Eggs and Ham” during what technically was not a Senate filibuster. Cruz believes that as long as there’s an Obama presidency, Republicans can repeal the president’s signature law.
In the other corner: Karl Rove, whose differences with Cruz extend far beyond their respective Texas roots (think Establishment Republicans vs. Tea Party). Rove, the so-called “architect” of George W. Bush’s presidential wins, believes that Obamacare alone isn’t his party’s silver bullet. His suggestion: Add “replace” to “repeal” and initiate a broader conversation about Congress as a check-and-balance to the Obama administration’s Democratic base instincts.
Pope Francis, Karl Rove isn’t. As anyone who saw him melt down on the Fox News Channel last Election Night, he’s hardly infallible. But on this matter, Rove’s right. Republicans have to broaden the message and soften the tone.
Let’s suppose the GOP picks up six Senate seats or more in November, thus gaining control of that chamber. And Republicans maintain their majority in the House. Come January, the GOP can send President Barack Obama pretty much any piece of legislation it so desires (thank you, Harry Reid, for invoking “nuclear option”).
Now, let’s take the hypothetical a step further: Cruz gets his wish and 2015’s Senate Bill 1 is a repeal of Obamacare. How long will it take for a two-word presidential veto – no, not “Seasons Greetings” – to make its way to Capitol Hill? How futile will Republicans look when it’s apparent that neither chamber is anywhere near the two-thirds majority required for a veto override?
Here’s a thought: Republican strategists should look back 20 years to the last time the GOP retook the Senate. What worked then: the Contract With America. Not because it dramatically altered the electoral landscape (the “contract” wasn’t trotted out until Sept. 27 of that election year – by then, momentum already was working against Democrats) but, instead because a new Republican majority will sorely need self-discipline.
Another “contract,” with a sensible but limited set of ideas and an even more realistic time frame for passing them (in 1995, 100 days for eight reforms), is one way to keep resurgent Republicans from making a spectacle of themselves. To get the process flowing, here’s what the Gingrich-Dole Congress discussed: tax relief, crime reduction and constitutional amendments requiring term limits and a balanced budget. For 2015, Republicans could look at schools, taxes and national security.
If the Rove school of thought prevails within GOP circles, more Republican candidates will be talking things non-Obamacare come the fall. Here in California, for example, gubernatorial hopeful Neel Kashkari has released a solid economic plan that balances his bashing of high-speed rail. Those candidates under Cruz will stick to Obamacare and a fire-and-brimstone sermon about Washington losing its way.
Ironically, either approach might work for Republicans in the short term: Obama’s soft approval numbers and a difficult landscape for Democrats (too many Senate incumbents in too many red states) make the 2014 election ridiculously easy for the party out of the power.
It’s the aftershock from a political earthquake that should concern Republicans. Handle victory the wrong way – too much in the way of payback and retribution; too little in the way of thoughtful policies and image restoration – and Republicans could in a short time turn the clock back to their minority days (in 2016, 24 Republicans will be defending 24 seats to only 10 for the Democrats).
What an ugly fall from grace it would be: from bragging about castration to a party self-neutered.
Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Reach him at email@example.com.