Leave the Wailing to the Left
In 2009, Republicans in Virginia won a spectacular victory at the polls. Not only did Bob McDonnell replace Democrat Tim Kaine as Governor, Bill Bolling was reelected as Lieutenant Governor and Ken Cuccinelli was chosen as Attorney General. Throughout the Commonwealth Republicans won, defeating eight incumbent Democrat members of the House of Delegates and increasing their margin in that House by six seats. New members elected to the House of Delegates that year include now-reelected Congresswoman Barbara Comstock and Virginia’s new Congressman Tom Garrett.
The following year GOP victories continued across the country with the Republican Party gaining 63 seats in the House of Representatives (capturing the majority), six seats in the U.S. Senate and 680 seats in state legislatures. When it was over Republicans controlled 26 state legislatures and had 29 of the 50 Governors.
What started this chain-reaction of Republican wins? One could argue that it was Barack Obama’s election in 2008, and the aggressive agenda pursued by him and the Democratic Party under a supposed “mandate” granted that year. Soon after his inauguration President Obama went right at the heart of his opponents, supported by majorities in the House and Senate, and pursued high visibility legislation such as the massive expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, an extended Automobile Industry Bailout, and the Public Land Management Act of 2009, which added 2 million acres of land to the National Wilderness Preservation System. He also suspended detentions at Guantanamo Bay, promising to close it in one year, lifted restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research (a hot-button issue of the Bush years) and abandoned the Mexico City Policy, which banned federal grants to international groups that provided abortions. His administration went on a regulatory tear, later described by Obama himself as an “audacious regulatory agenda.” He lectured Americans on a host of contentious social issues, and presented himself, and the left, as the morale arbiters of our society. Boldest of all was the nearly $800 billion economic stimulus (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) in which he promised “shovel ready jobs” and which contained more pork than American’s had ever imagined (remember “Cash for Clunkers?”). The passage of that bill, and others tied to it, led directly to the creation of the Tea Party movement and the engagement of millions of Americans, once uninterested, in the political process so as to “save America” from this leftist tsunami.
President Obama received over sixty-nine million votes in 2008, securing 365 Electoral College votes to John McCain’s 173. His popular vote advantage was nearly ten million. Donald Trump’s victory, while impressive, was comparatively small, with 306 Electoral Votes (to Clinton’s 232) and shy of sixty million votes across the country. In fact, Donald Trump, in his victory, received 300,000 fewer votes than McCain did in his losing effort. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by roughly 200,000.
Winning feels good, and after a hard-fought campaign I join my Republican friends and Trump supporters in feeling vindicated following this particularly nasty contest. The temptation to “rub it in” is strong, made even more so by the off-the-hook wailing and gnashing of teeth being exhibited by the left, with trigger warnings and dire predictions of the end of modern society, our democracy and the civil rights of all our citizens. Brian Schoeneman is correct to write, in his post-election post on Bearing Drift, that the “average American GOP voter has been talked down to, vilified by, and ignored by elites in the media and Washington,” that they had “been called…racist, sexist, misogynist, stupid, redneck, among other names,” and had become increasingly angry. I joined them in that anger, and I evolved from a detractor to a worker in the movement, even given my reservations about Trump’s candidacy. Obviously I am not alone, as the more the left attacked Trump, and by extension his “deplorable and irredeemable” supporters, with these hyperbolic and insulting slurs, the stronger his support grew. That support turned into a victory that surprised most the very people who had derided the American people for so long.
The derision continues, and the left is apoplectic following yesterday’s Republican victory. Universities are promising to provide counseling services to students traumatized by Hillary’s defeat, otherwise rational people are predicting that a dictatorship will follow, and social media is aflame with dire warnings of impending disaster and dripping contempt for those who supported Trump in capturing the presidency. If you define everything you disagree with as “hate,” and label everyone you disagree with as immoral and irredeemable, you place yourself in a situation where compromise and dialogue are impossible and total victory is the only option. At best this makes you unhappy in the real world, where views different than your own will always exist, at worst it leads to violence and tyranny, as one finds they can only achieve the victory they seek through the total destruction and subjugation of their imagined enemies. This behavior is the central, sad and time-proven characteristic of an “anti-democratic” movement. Overnight protests from the left over Trump’s victory show clearly that the left has done this. One such meme on Facebook from Occupy Democrats lays out this dismay in clear, if ridiculous terms, stating: “Speechless. Disappointed. This is the most embarrassing moment in American history. We will all come to regret this, especially the ones who voted for him. May our once-great democracy overcome this unqualified, unprepared joke of a President.” We can take all of this as a warning, or not. That is our choice.
Trump promised much during his campaign, and he needs to deliver on those promises. It is important to remember 2009 and 2010, however, as we go forward. Republicans won an impressive victory in this election, but the revolt staged by Trump’s supporters will only produce real results if it is sustained over many years. Resisting the temptation to punish our detractors, to pour salt in their wounds, either with rhetoric or legislation, is the key to turning this movement into a long and consequential one.
I am not arguing for a go-slow approach, nor diminishing the pressing nature of our nation’s problems. I am also not arguing that we should surrender the field when our character is maligned or our beliefs are ridiculed. What I am arguing for is positive and rational leadership, starting at the top, that recognizes the importance of bringing detractors into the fold when pursuing legislation, and mature and yes, humble, conduct among those now in control – including all those who voted for Trump. Obamacare passed without a single Republican vote and is a disaster. Pursuing a strategy to repeat that epic mistake in other areas of legislation will ultimately lead to a strong counter-reaction. Hillary Clinton’s description of much of America as “deplorable and irredeemable” may just have cost her the election, turning that label back on our opponents will not win them over to the cause. Republicans do not want to be on the receiving end of a mid-term “shellacking” reminiscent of 2010.
So let the left wail. Let them predict the end of the world and seek counseling for their emotional distress if they need it. I ask my fellow Republicans, including the #nevertrump crowd, to leave that all to them, calm the rhetoric, skip the recriminations, rise above the ridiculousness, and get on with the serious business of governing. The righteousness of the revolt will be shown in the accomplishments that follow. We can reform immigration law, secure the border, fix the budget, even reduce the debt. We can appoint high-quality constitutional conservatives to the Supreme Court, roll back regulations and reduce taxes, and support businesses as they grow and create jobs. We can reduce crime, promote personal responsibility, restore respect for the values and social views of the more traditional segments of society, and reassert our religious freedoms. And we must. To do all these things, however, will take well-crafted legislation, articulate policy persuasion, and yes, even some arm-twisting and deal-making. Symbolic, feel-good, measures that only serve to punish the left will not help. Lecturing, castigating and alienating the left might feel good, but it also will not help.
Our nation needs strong, rational, creative, and inspiring leadership to turn itself around and preserve it for future generations. Let’s provide it.