In these final days of the sequester countdown, President Barack Obama appears to be mostly driving the public narrative, with polls showing most voters siding with Democrats on most of the issues.
In a way, it’s an unfair fight.
The president, after all, owns the bully pulpit. When House Speaker John Boehner speaks, it causes a stir in the political press and riles up Washington-watchers like myself.
But when the guy in the Oval Office takes too the microphone, it goes on page one and generally leads the nightly news.
It’s also far easier for Mr. Obama to hone a clear message.
He is, after all, the chief executive, while Rep. Boehner is a guy whose day job as House Speaker is herding cats.
But I wonder if behind the drumbeat of culture war politics and posturing, this isn’t a moment for Republicans to begin clawing their way back to parity with Democrats by doing that most dangerous of things in Washington: governing.
When Mr. Obama was elected in 2008, Republican leaders said point-blank that their number one agenda item was a political one, insuring that his presidency was limited to a single term.
That agenda failed. Republicans are now facing down the barrel of another four years. Even many of the most conservative Republican governors are now implementing Obamacare. The Just Say No approach is in tatters.
So why not try another tactic? Why not try actually making things work?
So far, the reporting from Washington has suggested that Mr. Obama is the one who needs to be the grown-up in the sequester stand-off, finding a way around the impasse.
But what if Mr. Boehner and his sidekicks in the House were to come up with the solution?
I’m not talking about Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which is a great political document, outlining a firm ideological stance. That plan may be a great campaigning document, but everyone in America knows it’s dead on arrival in the real world.
I’m talking about some new, creative plan that actually moves the country toward fiscal sanity, includes some real austerity, and also acknowledges that the public’s views on many issues have changed.
This plan might include a re-imagining of the political landscape. Rather than linking budget cuts to a boost in taxes, as Mr. Obama has proposed, why not link budget cuts to a hike in the Federal minimum wage?
Or why not use this moment to score some other big wins, by compromising on tax loopholes but gaining some kind of significant tort reform in the healthcare industry, or inter-state commerce freedoms that would boost competition in the insurance industry?
The bottom line is that the current line-in-the-sand approach isn’t working very well for the GOP.
So conservative leaders need to find an innovative package of ideas that will hold their backbenchers, while also bringing at least some Democrats, including Mr. Obama, back to the table.
The message of this kind of fresh thinking to the American people could be profound. Polls show that a growing number of voters see Republicans as politically extreme, hidebound, and detached from their everyday concerns.
Maybe the best way back into the hearts and minds of the nation isn’t a new slogan, or a new packaging of old campaign rhetoric.
Maybe the best way for Republicans to re-emerge as America’s governing party is to come up with a plan for actually governing.