Byron York talks to a "very plugged-in Republican strategist" who says that the GOP understands where it got off-track during the stimulus debate and promises a new course:
"You're seeing a major doctrinal shift in how Republicans are going to focus all these debates," the strategist told me. "The key is to focus on winning the issue as opposed to winning the political moment. If you win the issue, people will think you are ready to govern.... With the political moment, it's how can you find the one thing that gives you the momentary upper hand in terms of the coverage for the next six hours -- as opposed to engaging the electorate in creating a structural change in their opinion on which party is better able to handle an issue."
So far, so good. This is a pretty sharp assessment, in keeping with what a lot of critics have noted about recent GOP strategy. It gets a little hazier, though, when it comes to the details of how this "doctrinal shift" is going to play out.
So now Republicans want to try something new. They point to last year's debate over energy, in which the GOP got the upper hand on the issue of drilling -- so much so that majority Democrats were forced to retreat from their position. That, the strategist says, was the kind of clearly-articulated policy alternative that Republicans will be seeking to put forward today.
"Clearly articulated policy alternative"? Or catchphrase-driven stunt? It's a fine line, I suppose. But I'm not exactly looking forward to the rollout such serious forays into economic governance as "Freeze, baby, freeze" and "Cut, baby, cut." York concludes:
The change is already happening. Last night on Fox, Sean Hannity asked House Republican Whip Eric Cantor whether the president's "massive amount of spending…is capable of getting us out of the economic downturn we now find ourselves in?" It was a perfect opportunity for Cantor to tee off on the spending excesses in the stimulus. Instead, he said, "Well, Sean, if you're talking about the stimulus plan that was passed, I'm trying to put the debate behind us. We are where we are…"
Just a few weeks ago, House Republicans cheered and high-fived each other for unanimously opposing the stimulus. Now, having realized they won the soundbite contest but lost the war, they don't want to talk about it. That is a major shift indeed.
I guess time will tell. But conceding that your old strategy was a losing one is a far cry from having discovered a winning one.