By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org
Now that the dust has settled after the mid-terms elections and Democrats across the country are picking themselves up off the mat, it’s a good time for Republicans to put down the champagne and stop dancing around like they scored a game-winning touchdown.
Be cool, Republicans.
MISSION NOT ACCOMPLISHED: Republicans shouldn’t let a big electoral victory hide the fact that they have more work to do.
Last week’s landslide victory was less about what you’ve done than what the Democrats have done and failed to do.
Republicans have good cause to celebrate, handing Democrats a historic electoral drubbing Tuesday night. The GOP took control of the U.S. Senate, flipped nine state legislative chambers from Democratic majorities to Republican and won gubernatorial contests in traditionally “blue states” such as Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts.
Surely this is a sign that Americans have come to their senses and rejected the progressive, big government policies embodied by the Obama administration and many Democrats, right?
Not so fast.
In our largely two party political system, voters have two options when they disagree with what one party is doing — They can stay home, or they can vote for the other guys.
Plenty of voters did the former on Election Day. Turnout was lower than any other midterm election in more than 70 years.
Many of the voters who showed up did the latter. Exit polls show that roughly one-third of all voters said they were casting votes to show their displeasure with Obama and his policies.
The Republican rout is a combination of those two phenomena.
But here’s the important thing for Republicans to remember: Being judged the lesser of two evils is not the same as winning voters’ hearts and minds.
In other words, voters’ rejection of Democratic politicians does not necessarily coincide with a rejection of progressive policies and does not indicate Americans are shifting to the right or more likely to embrace conservative ideals and Republican candidates in the long run.
Consider what happened in Arkansas.
Voters there sent U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor packing. The Republican challenger, Tom Cotton, won with more than 56 percent of the vote. It was a trouncing in what was supposed to be one of the closer races of the night.
But when confronted with a ballot question that asked whether the state’s minimum wage should increase, 65 percent of voters answered in the affirmative.
The same thing happened in South Dakota. Mike Rounds, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, nearly doubled the vote total for his Democratic opponent.
Gov. Dennis Dauggard, a Republican, cruised to re-election with more than 70 percent of the vote.
Are Arkansans and South Dakotans really that confused? Maybe.
Or maybe voters have an idea of the policies they want, but don’t see either party delivering those results. So we bounce back and forth from a Democratic wave in 2008 to a Republican wave in 2010 to a Democratic wave in 2012 to a Republican wave this year.
If Republicans want to make this year’s results stick, they still have work to do.
The good news is Republicans started doing this work two years ago, when they promised a head-to-toe review of what the party stood for and who stood behind it. That process should continue, even after the victories Tuesday.
None of this is meant to suggest that Republicans should embrace questionable-at-best economic policies like minimum wage increases just to remain more popular.
But the GOP should continue its inner self-examination and should continue working to find new ideas that fit within the small government framework.
Ideas such as reforming drug laws, for example. In California, voters overwhelming approved an initiative to reform how the state’s criminal justice system functions, reclassifying seven nonviolent drug offenses as misdemeanors instead of felonies and decreasing the prison time for people convicted of those crimes.
Placing limits on the power of the state to ruin lives for relatively minor offenses? This should be directly within the Republican Party’s small government wheelhouse, even if it means backing away from its long-standing knee-jerk desire to look “tough on crime” no matter how foolish those policies might prove in practice.
Voters in Alaska — a reliably red state — Oregon and Washington, D.C., — reliably blue places — approved ballot measures to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Ending the War on Drugs, or at least scaling it back significantly, is not a singularly conservative or progressive policy idea. It’s popular with people across all ideological lines, and it offers a chance for Republicans to live up to their claims of preferring smaller government that doesn’t care what you do in the privacy of your home, as long as no harm is done to others.
After getting trounced in the 2012 election, Republicans promised to re-invent themselves to appeal to a broader swath of the American electorate.
Many red-blooded Republicans will be tempted, after seeing the results of this mid-term, to throw their hands up and declare “mission accomplished.”
The last Republican to reside in the White House can tell you how foolish that conclusion often turns out to be.
Many voters who cast ballots for Republicans on Tuesday did so because they were frustrated with the status quo and were seeking a change. In two years, if they’re still frustrated, they’ll be looking again.
As long as the Republicans’ strategy is to be less-bad than the other guy, they’ll continue to be stuck in a boom-bust cycle as frustrated voters bounce between two bad options.