How Republicans could blow their 2016 chances... in 2014

If the GOP wins the Senate, and digs in its heels in partisan intransigence, the party can kiss the White House goodbye

Liz Cheney
(Image credit:<a href="" target="_blank">CheneyLiz</a>)

Politics 101: Listen to statistician Nate Silver.

With popular red-state Democrats retiring, the New York Times' stats guru says, the GOP may well win control of the Senate in 2014. Placing the oracle's reading alongside the high probability of a continued Republican House majority, conservatives are growing excited.

Nevertheless, we conservatives should keep the champagne on ice. The road to and beyond 2014 is one fraught with risk.

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For one, the very prospect of a GOP Congress is likely to sharpen the aggression of hard-line conservatives. In the eyes of many of these lawmakers, bipartisan negotiation is already a slightly varnished form of treason. As the prospect of a GOP Senate becomes more likely, the incentive to compromise further depreciates. Indeed, it's already happening. As Sandy Fitzgerald notes at Newsmax, immigration reform's stagnation is, at least in part, due to Republicans who see 2014 as their avenue to greater influence. Their calculation: Why rush to make concessions when time offers the ultimate prize?

These conservatives are treading on uncertain ground.

As's Ryu Spaeth points out, if Republicans allow themselves to be defined as obstinate partisans disinterested in governing, one might reasonably assume that they desire defeat in the 2016 presidential election.

One thing's for sure: If the GOP embraces entrenchment, 2014 will start to look a lot less rosy. After all, few things annoy voters more than politicians who are perceived to exist solely for their own aggrandizement.

Ultimately, if Republicans want to win in 2014, voters will first have to believe the party is looking for solutions. And the GOP will have to avoid nominating what Karl Rove describes as ''sorry'' candidates.

Republicans will also have to guard against damaging primary battles. Liz Cheney's challenge against a popular Wyoming GOP senator, Mike Enzi, provides a good example of the political costs inherent in internecine warfare. Take Cheney's announcement video in which she accused Obama of waging ''wars'' against American freedom and submitted that there's ''no longer a question'' of Obama being unpatriotic.

This type of rhetoric won't simply obfuscate conservative ideology, it will also generate a catastrophic ripple effect; alienating independent voters far beyond the Wyoming ranges.

Unfortunately, the GOP's midterm minefield doesn't end with the 2014 voting booths. Consider the renewed orthodoxy that would very possibly follow a GOP victory. Bipartisanship would again become a bogey word. Deals would quickly disappear, and eventually, so would Republican popularity.

The simple truth? If a Republican Senate and Congress are perceived as the domain of intransigent ideologues (whether on immigration, urban politics, social policy, or health care), many voters will view the 2016 Republican nominee the same way. In this reality, Republican power will serve only as the fleeting escort for a returning Democratic victor (Hillary Clinton).

Of course, the midterms might portend something very different. Consider a scenario in which the GOP won control of the Senate, but then used that victory as a tool for negotiations with the president. That would send a powerful message to the American people: "We know how to govern and we deserve your re-appraisal."

The 2016 GOP presidential primaries are likely to involve some impressive candidates. Nonetheless, unless Republicans think carefully about the import of 2014, the doors to the White House may remain locked for another four years.

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