Republicans are deep into self-criticism. Stung by November’s losses, GOP elders have released a report pushing the party to escape its “ideological cul-de-sac” and to “learn from successful Republicans on the state level.” They should add, “Don’t blow your advantage in the states.”
While the GOP struggles to win national elections, it has grabbed 30 governors’ mansions and state legislatures. Buoyed by helpful redistricting, state candidates have sold Americans on Republican principles of limited government and free-market capitalism. At the same time, deeply red legislatures are now pushing the kinds of social issues that have alienated voters on the national scene. If opposition to abortion and immigration reform can lose national elections, such policies could also threaten GOP gains at the local level.
Currently, Republicans are enjoying a tail wind – aka the sequester. The spending cuts initiated by President Obama and agreed to by Republicans are bringing national politics to our doorsteps. The GOP report rightly notes that “Our ideas can sound distant and removed from people’s lives.” While voters don’t like the sound of $16 trillion in national debt, it’s hard to imagine such a number, much less trace its impact on your morning Cheerios. Much to the delight of leftists like Paul Krugman, the long-term deterioration in our country’s balance sheet hasn’t (yet) boosted inflation, torched the dollar or hiked interest rates, thanks to Fed Chair Ben Bernanke’s liquidity tsunami and our still-troubled economy.
Until the sequester. Facing threats of unpleasant fall-out, Americans are scrutinizing how our tax dollars are spent – a pursuit uncomfortable for Big Government advocates and for the Obama administration. Almost daily we read of outlays that most Americans find idiotic -- like $325,000 to build a Robo-Squirrel, and $516,000 to devise a "Prom Night" video game. The recent slippage in President Obama’s approval ratings does not simply reflect his bogus scare tactics—they expose him as a bad manager.
This is good news for the GOP. Voters at the local level already see Republicans as more prudent trustees of the nation’s purse--the same should happen nationally. After the election, a Washington Post-ABC poll showed voters trusted Obama over Republicans to manage the economy by an 18-point margin; that is now down to four points.
A PRO-GROWTH AGENDA
Voters are seeing that the Republican pro-growth agenda works. A recent report from Manhattan Institute Fellow Joel Kotkin convincingly identifies the four future “growth corridors” of the country – they include states such as Montana, Texas, Nebraska, Florida, Arizona, Arkansas and Georgia that have attracted businesses with low taxes and light regulation. While many of these regions benefit from enviable energy resources and while not all are red states, they tend to embrace growth and private industry.
Kotkin describes attitudes towards growth in the U.S. as ranging from “suspicion and constraint to an enthusiastic willingness to expand.” He concludes, “The contrast…is the starkest difference between the eagerness to grow corridors and the rest of the nation.”
Republicans are the leading the growth charge. InChief Executive magazine’s annual ranking of best business climates, all ten top-rated states, including Texas, Florida and North Carolina, have Republican governors. In January, eight of the ten states with the country’s lowest unemployment rates are led by GOP governors. http://www.bls.gov/web/laus/laumstrk.htm
The contrasts can be stark. Voters in Indiana can look across the line and see what a mess Democrats have made of Illinois. Citizens of Texas feel pretty good when they compare their taxes and unemployment numbers with those of California.
Those contrasts could become sharper. There are today 38 states in which the governor’s mansion and the legislature are controlled by one party – the most since World War II. The GOP holds veto-proof majorities in sixteen states; 14 of those states also have a Republican governor.
This could allow real fiscal progress in those states. It could also prove a disaster. Unfettered control opens the door to opposing abortion, immigration reform and same-sex marriage -- positions that could weaken the party at the state level, as they have nationally. In Arkansas, the state legislature recently passed one of the most restrictive bills in the country, which would ban most abortions after twelve weeks. Similar measures are under consideration in Ohio, Kansas and North Dakota – all states controlled by the GOP. At the least, such measures will allow Democrats to continue to paint Republicans as anti-women.
Meanwhile, GOP-dominated Georgia has adopted a tough new immigration law – dubbed the “show me your papers law” -- that allows cops to investigate the citizenship status of certain detainees and to lock up those here illegally. Fortunately, legislators in states with large Hispanic populations like Colorado and Utah are beginning to backpedal on similar approaches. As is the case nationally, more are championing immigration reform.
Republicans may also be tarred with opposing gay marriage at the state level. A new poll finds support for gay marriage at an all-time high, with 58 percent of Americans believing such unions should be legal, up from just 37 percent ten years ago. Importantly, for those between 18 and 29, 81 percent favor legalizing same-sex marriage. Standing in front of this bus is a losing proposition.
Republicans have not won the women’s vote or the youth vote at the national level since 1988 when George Herbert Walker Bush defeated Michael Dukakis; they need to regain support from both groups. They also need to court minorities. If they pander to the anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-immigrant crowd at the state level, they will lose ground in local governments, and guarantee the White House remains in Democrat hands.