Throughout the 2012 campaign, Republicans warned that should President Obama win a second term, he would be far more liberal and assertive than his carefully crafted image would suggest.
We have been proven right.
President Obama’s second inaugural address was the most liberal and confrontational of his presidency. This is not some mere nuance – it represents a fundamental shift in the direction and focus of a presidency that is entering an entirely new phase.
Forget about grand calls for bipartisanship or taking “balanced” approaches to major issues. Cloaking the President’s deep-seated liberalism and avoiding controversial topics are strategies to be relegated to the first term. Now, we see a President intent to “complete” his remaking of America as a more progressive, inwardly focused, and ultimately less influential nation.
Having served as the leader of the Republican Party of San Diego County, and later the California Republican Party, I understand the need for leaders to achieve victories that will transcend their term in office. It is one of the qualities that distinguishes manages from leaders.
We got a taste of this in President Obama’s first term with Obamacare – a giant leap in the role of government on an issue of central importance to the Democrats’ coalition. It also proved to be the most controversial, and one which was perhaps the single greatest contributor to the election of a Republican majority in the House of Representatives just a few months later.
Now, imagine an entire four year term marked by battles equal in scale and conflict as the passage of Obamacare.
That is the future the President’s inaugural address foreshadows.
The President’s big push for more gun control, never discussed during this recent campaign and rarely a topic during his first term, shows a new willingness to pick fights in order to advance liberal priorities. Ditto the “fiscal cliff” fight that led to higher taxes for millions of Americans.
Republicans, conservatives, and allied groups need to be prepared for this kind of conflict and that means accelerating the process of getting past the setbacks of 2012. The time for analysis, introspection, blaming and complaining needs to come to a quick end. The opposing team is back on the field and determined to score.
Are Republicans doomed? Will a new “imperial Presidency” emerge that manages to turn the United States into a dull, slow, diminished of its former self? The answer depends on how Republicans choose to lead.
First, let’s look to the recent past. Following our 2008 defeat, Republicans could have chosen to embrace part of the new President’s agenda, and hope to survive in a new, more liberal world by offending as few people as possible. Fortunately for our team, the Democrats, with their total control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, showed little interest in working with Republicans, giving their opponents no stake in their success. As a result, the $800 billion+ stimulus package, Obamacare, Dodd-Frank and other major bills passed with little or no Republican support, and an energized Republican opposition quickly emerged.
The President’s tone on Monday, combined with his actions since the election, suggest the White House appears ready to repeat this mistake.
Additionally, Senate Democrats from battleground states, and House Democrats from marginal districts, particularly in the South and the West, have good reason to back away from the kind of liberalism the President intends to champion. Gun control and new taxes or regulations on energy can become the Obamacare of 2014 — issues that the Democrat base loves, but turn off swing voters. Republicans and allied groups need to be prepared to exploit these opportunities on the ground and in individual districts, not just on the cable TV news channels.
The President has made his intentions clear. Republicans must now join, and win, the battle.