Republican Party Needs a Vision for 2012, Argues Mark McKinnon

The party's chances of retaking Capitol Hill this fall may be surging. But Mark McKinnon argues they don't have a prayer in 2012 unless they start offering voters some substance.

Republican prospects of taking control of the House of Representatives in November, and to gain ground in the Senate and with governorships, look healthy. But many of my GOP colleagues are suffering from a delusional drunk if they think our luck will run on through 2012.

Sunday on Meet the Press, Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, fired blanks when asked what the GOP would do differently than Barack Obama or even fellow Texan George W. Bush.

Time for the GOP to listen to Ryan and crank up the ideas machine. Or get used to four more years of Obama.

When pushed by David Gregory for specific examples of the policies Republicans would pursue to reduce the deficit, Cornyn looked uncomfortable and unprepared. His response: “’No’ is a good start.” Sessions didn’t shoot any better. His sound bite, “We need to go back to the exact same agenda,” is already a punch line in a Democratic National Committee video online.

Mark McKinnon: Palin’s Running!“Just Say No” is a short-term strategy that may work for November. Though Cornyn is right that the Democratic monopoly on the federal government is scaring the living daylights out of folks, checks and balances alone are not going to do much to help Republican prospects for 2012.

Republicans need to communicate a vision, a plan and a message that give Americans an idea about what we stand for and what we would do differently to right the ship.

The economy is the number one issue on American’s minds. And a year and half into the Obama administration, the public is already impatient with the president's handling of the economy. In a Bloomberg poll, 71 percent say that we're still in a recession no matter what economists may say. And in a CBS poll, 51 percent of respondents say they expect effects of the recession to last two more years.

But there is a growing political, or class, divide when it comes to the economy. According to a new Politico poll, 45 percent of “Washington elites” say the country and the economy are headed in the right direction, while only 25 percent of the general population agrees. Not surprisingly then, according to Rasmussen, 68 percent of voters believe the nation’s “political class” doesn’t care what most Americans think.

This disconnect helps explain why only 23 percent of voters believe the federal government today has the consent of the governed.

Americans are hungry for leadership. They want more than just “No.”

Word is that sometime after Labor Day, Minority Leader John Boehner plans to serve up some steak – a blueprint of what Republicans will actually do if they take back the House. But some political consultants are counseling their congressional clients to not take any stands on substance that could give Democrats ammunition for a counterattack.

On this, former speaker and architect of the GOP takeover in 1994, Newt Gingrich is right: “Consultants, in my opinion, are stupid.”

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The economy is a huge anchor weighing down President Obama right now. The oceans of discontent are rising and submerging all of the rescue rafts. And that may be the case two years from now, but the GOP shouldn't count on it.

Recent corporate earnings are up, Wall Street is on a hiring spree, and my orthodontist friend and focus group of one—Dave "Half" Nelson—says he's busier than he has been in years (and that 90 percent of his patients are spending discretionary dollars for treatment).

While these few signs may only point to a dead-cat bounce as last month’s report from the Fed was more pessimistic than expected, the natural business cycle means the economy inevitably will improve—and just in time for Obama’s second term, as it did for Ronald Reagan.

Reagan’s job approval ratings were in the low 40s in 1982, slightly lower than Obama’s current rating. After reaching a low of 35 percent in January of 1983, the economy improved—as did the public’s perception of the Gipper’s performance. Less than two years later, Reagan was re-elected.

Republicans may not like what Obama has done, but he's damn sure done a lot. And, importantly for his re-election, he's done pretty much what he campaigned on.

Here's how Democratic strategist Billy Moore frames up Obama's achievements so far: “Tuesday marks the 18th month of Barack Obama's presidency, and this week will notch yet another major legislative accomplishment: the enactment of financial services regulatory reform. President Obama's legislative prowess, including health care reform, the economic stimulus, tobacco regulation, student loan reform, credit card reform and equal pay, registers him among the most effective lawmaking presidents in a century.”

I’m not an economist, but I am a realist. I think it would be a good idea if we bet on the prospect that the economy is likely to improve. So the GOP better prepare with something more than "Just Say No."

And though I’m just another shallow media consultant, I second Rep. Paul Ryan’s advice to the GOP: “Let’s make certain we do not simply retreat to the same failed policies. Let’s make the tough, forward-looking choices that will restore the promise and prosperity of this exceptional nation, and let’s do it together.”

Time for the GOP to listen to Ryan and crank up the ideas machine. Or get used to four more years of Obama.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.