By Mike Pitstick
Republicans exceeded expectations across the country in the midterm elections last Tuesday, Nov. 4, taking control of the Senate, increasing the size of their House majority and winning long shot gubernatorial elections in blue states like Maryland and Massachusetts. Over the next two years, the Republican Party will have the opportunity to build bridges and move beyond its image as the “party of no.” Creating a platform to address the needs of an ailing nation is crucial if the GOP wishes to maintain its newfound Senate majority and retake the White House.
While President Obama was not on the ballot last Tuesday, most saw the GOP sweep as a referendum on his policies. The president himself acknowledged his party’s resounding defeat, expressing a desire to work with the new Republican Congress. Approaching the 114th Congress as a clean state is a good call for both Republicans and the President. Congress, the GOP and the president all face low approval ratings. Though Republicans were able to ride the anti-Obama wave into office, they will not have the same luxury in two years with a predicted increase in voter turnout and a new Democrat replacing Obama as party leader.
The first step to a successful Republican Congress is unity. The current Congress has been marked by a sharp divide between Tea Party and so-called Establishment Republicans. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), a symbol of the establishment, has been criticized for caving in to the President, while Tea Partiers have been accused of obstruction. The two sides will need to find common ground to work together. Boehner and likely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) will need to keep the Tea Party faction under control without alienating them.
The second step is a renewed focus on the practical. The new Republican Congress can vote to repeal Obamacare as many times as it wants, but Obama will surely veto any repeal, and the Republicans do not have the two-thirds majority necessary to override his veto. Rather than focusing on unobtainable legislative feats, Republicans should turn their focus to practical goals. Allow Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to create a new proposal for immigration reform, one which would satisfy his more conservative colleagues. Close the tax loopholes that cause the U.S. millions in revenue and effectively allow the rich to cheat the system. Create a plan to fight poverty with a market-based approach, like the one proposed by Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Showing America that the Republican Party can lead will go a long way in restoring its reputation leading up to the 2016 elections.
The GOP exceeded expectations here in Texas as well. Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) defeated State Senator Wendy Davis (D) by a margin of 20 percent, nearly 1 million votes, to win the governor’s seat. While Abbott was consistently ahead in the polls, none had him as far ahead as the voters put him last Tuesday. For the lieutenant governor race, Dan Patrick (R) defeated Leticia Van de Putte (D) by a similarly large margin. While the outcome of both of these elections was not surprising, a few of the local races were more interesting.
Wendy Davis, famous for her filibuster of a pro-life bill in the Texas Senate, did not run for reelection to her senate seat in order to run for Governor. Her district, Senate District 10, is one of the few battleground districts in Texas. Davis held the seat for six years after defeating Republican Kim Brimer in 2008. Adding insult to Democratic injury, Davis’ seat was won by pro-life Republican Konni Burton, 53 percent to 44.5 percent, who won over Democrat Libby Willis.
Another close battle and Republican victory occurred in Dallas County. While Davis won Dallas County by 11% percent, Democrat Craig Watkins, the incumbent district attorney, lost to Republican Susan Hawk, giving the GOP its first countywide victory in ten years. Watkins faced sharp opposition after he appeared to be forwarding his own brand, allowing attorneys working under him to run for judgeships against targeted incumbents. He has also been accused of misusing public funds and using his position to protect his friends. Hawk won in Dallas County by seeking broad support in traditionally Democratic areas, a lesson many in the GOP still need to learn.
After many gains here in Texas and nationwide, Republicans need to show concern for their brand. Waiting for Obama to leave office is not enough. National Republicans should follow Hawk’s example: try appealing to voters outside your base. Embracing traditionally Democratic issues like poverty and tackling them from a conservative angle will show Americans that Republicans are concerned with more than the 1 percent. Actually setting and accomplishing a legislative agenda will prove that Republicans are more than the “party of no.” 2016 is just around the corner, and the Republican Party cannot afford to squander last week’s gains.