Swimming with sharks

Published 10:52 am Friday, January 24, 2014

Americans are all different in terms of their willingness to take risks. Some of us love skydiving, some cliff diving, a few even risk swimming with the sharks. But no group of Americans is more engaged in risk-taking than the Republican Party of 2014.

There has been a great deal written about the challenges Republicans will face in national elections in 2016 due to shifting demographics.

In the 2012 election non-white votes were only 10 percent of Romney’s voters. And the demographics of American population growth indicate that over the next few decades, more and more voters will be from minority groups.

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Without an effective outreach to a broader coalition of voters in 2016 the Republican challenge to elect a president will face increasingly difficult odds.

But Republicans have more than two years to define how their policies might expand to attract a broader spectrum of voters before facing a presidential election. A great deal can happen in what is, in political terms, a dog’s life of two years.

Their dilemma in 2014 is different and, on the face of it, an even higher risk strategy.

In 2014 Republicans begin their spring warm-ups with the lowest rating for their congressional delegation since records have been kept. Americans did not like the last government shutdown sponsored by the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party.

Beyond the shutdown, which could be largely forgotten by next fall, Republicans seem focused on a single issue for the 2014 elections: Obamacare.

As a strategy it could work, if there are enough problems throughout the coming year with the new program to continue to keep the Affordable Care Act under 50 percent in public support.

But the single-issue campaign could also fail if the ACA is worn out by overuse in the media, or if its early missteps are forgiven or forgotten as new issues arise in public life.

If both the Republican government shutdown is dimmed by time, and Obamacare is dimmed by over attention or improved outcomes, what then will be the issues Republicans advocate to win in 2014?

Doubtlessly they would like to run on fiscal conservatism, but that is not an easy issue given Republican deficits and spending the last time they held congress.

And fiscal conservatism may be made more difficult by what appears to be a recovering economy today. In a good economy voters rarely vote out incumbents.

Republicans have, until recently, been more trusted than Democrats on foreign policy, but, lacking another U.S. placement of troops in the field, it seems unlikely foreign policy could turn against the administration.

There are few, if any, Republican policy arguments today. They have allowed themselves, or chosen, to become the party of No. Republicans are better known today for what they oppose than what they support.

Republicans oppose extending unemployment, oppose increasing the minimum wage, oppose the living wage, oppose the ACA, oppose fully funding food stamps (SNAP),and oppose expanding pre school education.

Republicans advocate cutting popular programs like Social Security and Medicare, calling them “unsustainable” without significant reductions in benefits for future retirees.

Our Republican friends may not see the above issues as points of concern. Living in the age of media selection the home of many Republicans is Fox News, where one might think all is well and their Democratic opponents are lost and confused.

Maybe so, elections will answer that question in the fall.

But, in the meantime, if you are swimming with sharks it is wise to be certain the blood in the water is not your own.


Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living in the Tri-State.