By MARSHA MERCER
After their midterm victories, most Republican leaders sounded like boyfriends reunited with their sweeties after a bad breakup. They murmured sweet nothings about how this time they’ll really listen.
“A second chance, a golden opportunity,” likely House majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., said on CBS. Senator-elect Marco Rubio, Republican from Florida, called the election “a second chance for Republicans to be what they said they were going to be, not so long ago.”
“What we got was a second chance,” former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., declared on National Public Radio. “Voters had thrown us out the last two times and they’re saying, ‘We’re going to give you a second chance,’ but we come into this on probation.”
And then there was Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The top Republican in the Senate said Republicans’ top priority the next two years must be to defeat President Barack Obama. After McConnell took some heat for his fighting tone, he went even further.
“The fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill; to end the bailouts; cut spending; and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all of those things is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto any of these things,” McConnell said in a speech Thursday to the Heritage Foundation.
“We can hope the president will start listening to the electorate,” he said. “But we can’t plan on that.”
It would be foolish, McConnell said, to expect Republicans to reverse actions of the last two years as long as a Democrat holds the veto pen.
You have to hand it to McConnell. He doesn’t mind exhibiting raw partisanship even when most of his colleagues are sugarcoating their intentions.
The 2012 campaign is already underway, and McConnell’s goal is to capture the Senate as well as the White House. Republicans expect to hold at least 47 seats going into 2012, when 23 Democrats but only 10 Republicans are up for re-election. The numbers are in Republicans’ favor, and McConnell sees no reason to mess with success.
Far from apologizing for the “party of no,” McConnell credits the midterm victories to Republicans sticking together in “principled opposition” to Obama’s policies. The election was a report card, and voters gave Obama an F, he said.
One way to continue distinguishing themselves from Obama, McConnell said, is for Republicans to force repeated votes on repealing the new health law. They won’t be able to kill it, but they can force Obama to “defend the indefensible” over and over, McConnell told the conservative think tank where his wife Elaine Chao, labor secretary to President George W. Bush, now works.
Obama, in his post-election news conference, warned it would be misreading the election results “if we thought that the American people want to see us for the next two years relitigate arguments that we had over the last two years.” He did indicate some willingness to tinker with the law, however. Exit polls found voters evenly split between wanting to repeal the law and wanting to keep and expand it.
The president has invited Democratic and Republican leaders to the White House for a meeting Nov. 18. Unfortunately, when Republicans were blocking him at every turn early on, Obama waited 18 months to invite McConnell for a one-on-one meeting. McConnell finally sat down alone with the president in August.
Obama says he wants to work with Republicans, but he has shown little appetite yet for changing course, which McConnell and other Republicans say is necessary. Obama now says people wrongly believed his emergency attempts to fix the economy were part of his agenda for bigger government.
Republicans who are about to take control of the House have started talking about their own agendas, which they say reflect what they’ve heard from voters. Cantor put out a 22-page document of House reforms and spending cuts.
But here’s the thing. Voters rewarded the “party of no” in 2010. Next time, Republicans will be running on their own record. For years, some have pushed such ideas as partially privatizing Social Security and Medicare for workers under 55, two goals of the likely House Budget chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Voters “didn’t fall in love with Republicans. They fell out of love with Democrats,” McConnell said.
We’ll see whether voters fall in love with Republicans by 2012.
© 2010 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.