There’s no point in advertising an unpopular agenda

THERE’S NO POINT IN ADVERTISING AN UNPOPULAR AGENDA…. A couple of months ago, Jonah Goldberg argued that it’s time for the GOP to go beyond the “party of no” approach, and “call Obama’s bluff and offer a real choice.” James Joyner Dodd at Outside the Beltway offered a similar perspective today.

Assuming (as I do) that the GOP will take at least the House, and possibly the Senate, the party must run on specific proposals in order to garner the leverage necessary to roll back the last few years of Democratic excesses. If they stick to their current (apparent) game plan and just run on not being Democrats, they will have neither a mandate to repeal Obamacare, et al, nor the will.

Unfortunately, despite a series of “Establishment” Republicans being sent packing by the base, all the signs so far indicate that McConnell and Co. just want to get their power back, not to actually do anything with it. Boehner’s been better, but the resistance to campaigning on a theme of, say, Paul Ryan’s Roadmap is unmistakable. The party need not endorse the specifics of Ryan’s plan in every particular to set forth a plan of action along those lines.

Kevin Drum responds that Republicans don’t have much of a choice — the party’s leaders “serve up mush” because if they told voters what they actually wanted to do with power, “they’d lose.”

Matt Yglesias has a different take, arguing that “specific commitments” from parties are “vastly overrated.” The more interesting question for Boehner and McConnell, Matt argues, would be thematic: “For example, in addition to the endless nutty investigations, the 1995-2000 years saw a lot of legislating on fairly important topics. There was the welfare reform bill, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, the creation of SCHIP, etc. What does Boehner think of those years? Did congressional Republicans give away the store in a way he’s determined to avoid? Or did they squander the opportunity to do even more bipartisan legislating with run-amok investigations?”

Can I go with “all of the above” here?

Dodd is right that Republicans are probably making a mistake hiding their political agenda before the elections. It’s cowardly and cynical to have a plan and keep it under wraps, but it’s also counter-productive — if the GOP presented a detailed policy platform and won big, the party could credibly claim a mandate. (I disagree, of course, about the need to “roll back … Democratic excesses” from recent years — I know of no such excesses — but Dodd is conservative and I’m not, so let’s just move on.)

Kevin is right that the rationale for the Republican strategy is obvious — an actual GOP wish list would be electoral suicide. It’s a reasonably safe bet that Republicans will have an extremely strong cycle, but an objective look at the landscape suggests voters are backing the minority party because they’re unsatisfied with the status quo, not because they’re suddenly enthralled with the GOP or its ideas. Indeed, some recent polling suggests Republicans are still deeply unpopular — more so than the president or congressional Dems. The moment the GOP starts detailing its desire to privatize Social Security and cut taxes for billionaires (again), the party would have even less support. It’s why would-be Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sat down with the Washington Post recently, and refused to give any details about how his party would govern.

And Matt is right that thematic answers about the kind of majority the GOP envisions would be about as illustrative as a specific policy agenda, but Republicans aren’t offering that kind of information, either.