Republicans have a real chance of losing the U.S. House in 2018. They are not only running against the Democrats, but against history: the sitting president’s party tends to lose midterm elections, especially after losing gubernatorial races the preceding year.
But Republicans can turn their political prospects around in time if they deliver on at least some of their promises, allow insurgent campaigns to flourish, and warn voters about “Speaker” Nancy Pelosi.
1. Make a down payment on big promises. So far, Republicans in Congress have failed to repeal Obamacare or to fund President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall. Tax reform is also beginning to look shaky.
In football terms, the GOP is on fourth down in the red zone, having dropped three straight touchdown passes. They can go for broke again, and risk turning the ball over, or they can settle for a field goal and make another attempt on the next drive.
Barack Obama provided a lesson in what not to do. In 2009, his party also lost gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia. Several weeks later, Republican Scott Brown won a special election for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts.
Then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel advised Obama to settle for incremental changes in health care. Obama refused, and pushed Obamacare through Congress. The Democrats have yet to recover from the damage.
At the same time, Republicans cannot show up in November 2018 with no real legislative achievements. So they need to pass what they can.
The best vehicle for doing so is tax reform, which Republicans know they must pass. They should simplify their bill, if necessary, to focus on lowering the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%. Then they should tack on amendments to end deductions for illegal aliens’ wages and Obamacare’s individual mandate.
Conservatives may not be satisfied with these partial changes, but they will at least represent movement in the right direction. Republicans can then tell voters they will take these reforms further if they are given a stronger mandate.
Rather than staying on defense and letting Democrats define the issues for 2018, Republicans can then make the midterms about finishing what they started — a forward-looking message, one that allows them to go on offense.
2. Fuel the insurgency. Conventional wisdom, as articulated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is that insurgent primary campaigns waste money and energy needed for the general election against the Democrats, and that they risk elevating flawed candidates who cannot win.
The conventional wisdom, however, is wrong. Midterm elections are about enthusiasm, and right now it is all with the Democrats — and the new Republican insurgents.
Instead of lamenting the primary contests, Republicans should relish the fights. They will invigorate the party base, and bring new leaders to the fore.
New, outsider candidates always pose risks. But the party establishment is no better at picking candidates. And the greater risk, in an anti-incumbent environment, is sticking with the status quo.
The other advantage of insurgency is it is the only way to ensure incumbents do their jobs, which they will hurry to do.
3. Warn voters about Pelosi. For Republicans, Nancy Pelosi is the gift that keeps on giving. Rather than resigning as head of her caucus after she led Democrats to historic defeat in 2010, she has presided over dwindling numbers in the hope of regaining the Speaker’s gavel.
In opposition, as in power, she has marginalized dissent in the ranks. She remains in place because she raises money and has widely respected political skills. But she is a major liability.
The prospect of Pelosi returning to power is frightening to Republicans, the closest thing to having Obama on the ballot.
Equally frightening is the idea that Democrats will impeach the president if they take the House. But running against impeachment keeps Trump in focus in a negative way, which is what Democrats want.
Republicans should instead make Pelosi the target of their campaigns, and remind voters of how badly she did when she had power.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.