Republicans’ choice: retreat or regroup 

Following November’s midterms and December’s shutdown, Republicans hear their days are dark and short. The new Congress has begun, but their denouement continues with things having gone from bad to worse. Bull. This is far from a low point, and this is a retreat only if Republicans choose to make it so.  

Liberals are rephrasing Shakespeare and telling Republicans “now is the winter of their discontent.” The House was lost, the government is shut, and the President will continue treading water in the polls. In two years, Democrats will finish the job.  

ADVERTISEMENT
Instead of English literature, Republicans’ focus should be on American history. Yes, it is winter, literally and figuratively, and they have suffered setbacks — Democrats now run the House and some compromise will have to be struck to reopen the government — but their opportunity is akin to Washington’s at Valley Forge: Retreat or regroup.   

Everyone knows the course Washington chose over two centuries ago. However, it is still unclear what course Republicans will take over the next two years. The first thing they must do is take stock of where they are and what they can do.  

An honest appraisal must acknowledge that their potential for action over the next two years is vastly changed from that of the preceding two. However, this does not mean it no longer exists, just that it is different.  

Second, they must admit the reason that potential changed came largely from their own ability to not utilize what they had — failure to reform ObamaCare is example No. 1. Yet again, this does not mean that they can not identify policies on which they could unite, and that they can actually work together.  

Such honest appraisals must also acknowledge that Republicans are not in the bad shape their critics wish them to be.  

Republicans have been far worse off, and not long ago. In 1993, Republicans had just lost the presidency, winning less than 40 percent of the popular vote. Democrats controlled Congress and Republicans held just 43 Senate seats and 176 House seats. In 2009, Republicans had again lost the presidency and Obama had won Democrats’ largest popular vote percentage since LBJ’s in 1964. Democrats again controlled Congress and Republicans held just 41 Senate seats and 178 House seats.  

Today, Republicans still hold the White House for two more years, with an incumbent who is expected to seek re-election. Republicans still hold the Senate with 53 seats — two more than last year. They also have at least 199 House seats (with one undecided, but in which they lead). Yes, in November, they lost 40 seats and the House, but they also had 37 open seats to defend and — still less than the 54 House seats Democrats lost in 1994, or the 64 they lost in 2009. 

Undoubtedly, Republicans must regroup, both their politics and their policies, but offer substantial resources.  

Politically, they must adjust to a divided Congress. They are stronger in the Senate than they were. This is crucial — since the Senate confirms nominees and would handle the trial if House Democrats were foolhardy enough to impeach Trump. In the House, their numbers are well above that needed to sustain presidential vetoes — thus insulating Senate Republicans from always having this role.  

Also, House Democrats are from the monolithic: According to The Cook Report, 31 Democrats represent seats Trump won in 2016. Even with the minority’s limited House opportunities, Republicans will get to test Democrats’ divisions.  

Nor is there a shortage of policy opportunities. Immigration, border security, trade, health care, defense, energy, environmental and economic policy all offer areas in which they can pursue popular proposals that could unite them and divide their opponents.  

In 1777, Americans had just lost Philadelphia, the capital of their fledgling country and limped into winter quarters at Valley Forge. The British presumed they could dispatch the beaten American force at their leisure next year — if Washington could even hold it together that long.  

ADVERTISEMENT
The Americans faced a critical juncture: If their winter encampment proved no more than another retreat, then the British were probably right. Instead, Washington used it to regroup and retrain his forces. What emerged from Valley Forge was the first real American army able to take the field with their foe.  

Republicans today face the same choice, but significantly better circumstances. They retain sizable assets, which, if properly used, make them formidable. However, like their forebears, they are still in need of regrouping — and yes, retraining, in their new roles. In short, Republicans are far from beaten — unless they choose to be.   

J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987-2000.