While we watched a tired list of familiar Republican faces at the Iowa Freedom Summit, Democrats were busy advancing their 2016 election strategy. Conservatives quaking in their boots over the possibility of another Clinton presidency are talking big and vowing reforms we have heard about before that never seem to happen. Meanwhile the president made a speech, a Saturday follow-up to the SOTU that should be a wake-up call for one 2016 election battle conservative candidates will fail to win.
A simple message even dumb people understand
The conservative race for 2016 is still about celebrity Republicans more than issues or even a single issue. Democrats don’t have that problem. They started running for the White House a long time ago. They aren’t pushing a person. They are advocating a policy. It’s called middle-class economics, the centerpiece of last week’s presidential address to the nation:
That’s what middle-class economics is – the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.1
Sure, this is just a clever label to disguise the same old tax increase on the wealthy, but middle-class economics puts Democrats squarely ahead of anything conservative candidates are talking up. It’s a simple message that gives hope to Americans who prefer to rely on the government to improve their lives. As Obama reminded us during his Saturday morning address, middle-class economics is entirely consistent with his hackneyed but successful election strategy of demonizing anyone holding extra cash:
And we can afford to do these things by closing loopholes in our tax code that stack the decks for special interests and the superrich, and against responsible companies and the middle class.2
These words translate into resentment and votes coming from an idea anyone capable of tying their shoes can understand. How about Republicans? Can the dumb and the grabby understand the current state of American conservatism as practiced by the Republican Party? Not on your life. Even conservatives can’t figure it out.
Conservative candidates confuse, conflict, and muddy the water
While Obama figures out how to insert “middle-class economics” into every other sentence he utters, Republican presidential candidates-in-waiting are attacking a slew of policies their nemesis put in place that their party has so far been helpless to do anything about. Don’t expect an explanation as to why it always takes another election to make a difference, or why a GOP-dominated Congress can’t do whatever lawmaking a conservative 2016 election winner would accomplish. That answer isn’t going to come.
Ted Cruz has vowed to yank every word of the Affordable Care Act off of the books. He says he wants to dissolve the IRS. Cruz isn’t going to do either of these things. From what we’ve seen, neither will Congress. Rick Perry is touting his credentials as if he never applied pen to paper to hand taxpayer-funded tuition to illegal immigrants. Chris Christie will spend more time proving he is a conservative than talking about what he can do for us if he wins. Rick Santorum’s divisiveness in 2012 makes 2016 all but impossible. Sarah Palin? Be serious.
If conservatives believe that Congress, not Obama should do the legislating, then Congress should be doing it. Republicans are notorious for talking bold and dropping the ball when the time comes to act. Instead of making big promises for the future, we should be hearing why DACA has been up and running the entire time the GOP has been in control of the House and why 26 Republicans refused to vote “yes” to start getting rid of it (see: Ernst Speech, Blackburn Vote: Trouble for Conservatives). If the Affordable Care Act can be gotten rid of, we should do it now. Don’t wait. Don’t make promises based on a future political landscape that is impossible to predict.
Democrats support the middle class. Republican candidates back themselves.
Liberal America is hearing Democrats united behind a single message and in all likelihood a single candidate whose name we already know. For conservatives 2016 election battle lines are being drawn between Republicans, not policies. Potential candidates are engaging in self-promotion prior to the usual infighting over who is most or too conservative (see: Bad Habits Republicans Need to Break Now). This is the same problem the party faces at every election. That’s why we have popular has-beens and also-rans throwing their hats into the ring. The contest is about personalities, not policy. That’s a 2016 election battle conservative candidates can’t win when they are facing off against a party that is all about giving away the most to the many.