Bring on the midterms: GOP still has plenty of opportunity for gains

Bob Ehrlich says Republicans can win next time by focusing on immigration, gun law enforcement and fiscal responsibility

February 10, 2013|Robert L. Ehrlich Jr

Last week's column chronicled a dire set of circumstances regarding our economy and culture at the onset of Obama II.

This status quo is complicated by an aggressive liberal establishment attempting to take advantage of the president's post-election momentum and an always compliant mainstream media.

And then there's the necessity of offering an inviting conservative message, attractive to the all-important swing voter — a vital constituency that supported the president by a significant margin in 2012.

The task is easier said than done, but not impossible.

Herewith some planks (and tactics) as the midterm election cycle begins.

•Gripe sessions: Post-election self-reflection summits can be productive, but enough of the Dr. Phil moments. Remember, your opponents live for incidents of self-abasement; try not to provide them further ammunition.

•Gun control: Speaking of ammunition, it is time to articulate a more positive posture on the issue of gun violence. We know how the media love to degrade pro-Second Amendment views. We further recall how this president views our predilections ("… they cling to guns or religion ..."). Accordingly, we remain open to suggestions that will keep firearms away from criminals and mentally unstable people, including ways to strengthen the federal background-check database system.

We also stand behind initiatives such as "Project Exile," a federal/state partnership that targets felons in possession of illegal firearms. U.S. attorneys must target these prosecutions; bad guys understand "federal time" means mandatory time behind bars.

Further, we should emphasize the irony of most gun control measures: No gun law can force the bad guys to register their guns or subject themselves to a background check, since it's already illegal for felons to possess a firearm.

•Immigration: Post-election polls confirm that ill-chosen rhetoric and Bush-era immigration debates have turned off Hispanic and Asian voters otherwise attracted to GOP fiscal and social messages. The present debate presents an opportunity to: 1) pass sound policy; 2) appeal anew to these very "gettable" voting blocs, and 3) put this issue behind us.

First, we must strengthen the border using the latest technology and enforcement techniques. We live in the age of low-tech terrorism. This is a bipartisan no-brainer.

Second, we should support a "path to legality." Sen. Marco Rubio (and a bipartisan group of senators) recently announced a sensible approach: Those already here must pass a gantlet (register, pay back taxes and fines, pass a background check, demonstrate current employment, learn English) in order to qualify for probationary status, i.e., become eligible for a green card. This process creates transparency, penalizes previous illegal acts, and (re)generates respect for the rule of law.

Most importantly, it respects millions of immigrants who honored our immigration laws, since this group is assured of keeping priority status in applying for the card. One additional element: The newly lawful "probationary immigrants" will be ineligible for federal welfare benefits.

•Spending and deficits: This is a tough one. GOP attempts to engage the voting public over debt clocks and nearly broke entitlement programs generated a collective yawn last November. Yet, we know there is no more important issue. A sequestration process scheduled to kick in about three weeks from now (representing $85 billion in spending cuts) presents an opportunity to blaze a more sensible spending path. Please note that sequestration is neither thoughtful or equitable. It's simply the only option currently available to the plurality of fiscal hawks in Washington, D.C.

Further, it's not as though President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have offered any serious plan to rein in Washington's insatiable spending appetite. (Recall the president's recent insistence to Speaker Boehner, "We don't have a spending problem.") The bottom line: We have a spending addiction and few prescriptions to save us. But it is not required that we talk about it all the time, just that we act when the opportunity arises.

•Single women: another tough one. Single women with children and limited economic opportunities are logically drawn to the party of government; many are reliant on that government for their sustenance. This group is not terribly attracted to notions of individualism, entrepreneurship or the Second Amendment. Many just want to figure out how to pay the bills. So tell them we will help pay the bills, but that steps toward self-reliance are expected as well. And (putting aside the issue of abortion) we have no interest in limiting their access to contraceptive options, Democratic Party messaging notwithstanding. A further point: A renewed focus on fatherhood and male role models within single (female) households with kids is long overdue.

There you have it — a platform of serious immigration reform, gun law enforcement, fiscal sense, female empowerment, and positive messaging. Not so complicated. Let's get to it.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the author of "Turn this Car Around," a book about national politics. His email is ehrlichcolumn@gmail.com.

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