Post-mid-term advice to Republican Congress: Don't govern

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks at a press conference. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The National Review editors think Senator Mitch McConnell needs to keep his eyes on the 2016 prize

According to the editors of the National Review, there's only one thing for Republicans to do with their new-found control of the US Congress: nothing.

The political reality is that as long as President Barack Obama is in office and can veto bills he doesn't like, Republicans aren't going to be able to achieve any of their legislative objectives. So why try?

"If Republicans proclaim that they have to govern now that they run Congress, they maximise the incentive for the Democrats to filibuster everything they can - and for President Obama to veto the remainder," they write. "Then the Democrats will explain that the Republicans are too extreme to get anything done."

Not only that, they say, attempting to pass legislation will risk opening the divide between the establishment and hard-core conservative wings of their party.

The alternative, the editors write, is for Republicans to do what they can to lay the groundwork for a presidential victory in 2016. Then, with control of both the executive and legislative branches, the party will be able to effectively implement its agenda.

Republicans should talk about their healthcare proposals, tax reform, energy policy, education subsidies and more. But, Lord knows, they shouldn't try to make the compromises and risk the brinksmanship that may be required to enact any of it.

"Not much progress is possible until we have a better president," they write. "Getting one ought to be conservatism's main political goal over the next two years."

If all this sounds familiar, that's because it is. Shortly before the 2010 mid-term elections in which Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said his party's number-one priority was ensuring that Mr Obama only serve one term.

It's an oft-quoted line. Here's a bit more of what Mr McConnell said, for context:

"We need to treat this election as the first step in retaking the government. We need to say to everyone on Election Day:' Those of you who helped make this a good day, you need to go out and help us finish the job.'"

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Barack Obama can still veto any legislation the Republican Congress passes

The Republicans didn't finish the job in 2012, as Mr Obama was re-elected. The National Review editors don't want their party to let Democrats off the hook twice.

The National Review editorial was picked up quickly by liberal commentators, who pointed to it as evidence of continued Republican malevolence.

"The goal of this attitude isn't to advance the nation's interests, even incrementally," writes MSNBC's Steve Benen. "Rather, the argument - reaching levels of public cynicism that are truly awe-inspiring - is that the sole focus of a political party is to do nothing until that party has absolute power over all branches of government."

George Washington University Prof David Karpf says that it will be difficult for Democrats to counter this strategy, however.

"Republicans will continue to make sure nothing gets done in Congress," he writes in the Huffington Post. "Voters will continue to be disgusted, tuning out from politics as a result. And then, tuned out from politics, they'll see less reason to turn out on Election Day, and less value in paying close attention along the way."

The Washington Post's Paul Waldman writes that the National Review's advice, while a bit cynical, is sound.

If Republicans can avoid big confrontations over things like the debt limit and funding the government, while advancing just enough legislation to make it seem like they're trying, they'll probably get a pass from the public and the media.

"In short, the fundamental gridlock will remain, and Republicans will say that the way to end it once and for all is to keep them in power in Congress but also give them the White House, too," he concludes.

That's all easier said than done, writes the New Republic's Danny Vinik. Will Mr McConnell be able to keep fire-breathing back-benchers like Senator Ted Cruz in check?

"It's one thing to lay out a conservative agenda," he says. "It's another thing to rally the party behind it."

The way the system works now, however, the potential future payoff - control of the White house, the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate - is worth the risk of being perceived as do-nothing opportunists. Winning big is the only way to get things done anymore.

It's a bold strategy the National Review is proposing. Let's see if it pays off for them.