A pair of primaries this week offered an instructive lesson in what Republicans must do — and must not do — as they gear up for battle with President Obama and the Democrats this fall.
In Kansas, tea party challenger Dr. Milton Wolf put up a spirited fight against incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts in Tuesday’s primary in a contest that got a little personal and a little nasty at times. Dr. Wolf was understandably disappointed at the result but quickly vowed to work to elect Sen. Roberts in November after the votes were counted.
Things went a little differently in an equally nasty Republican primary for a Michigan House seat, where the winner, Rep. Justin Amash, refused to take the concession call from his opponent and had a few choice words for those Republicans who didn’t support him in the race. That’s just the kind of thing that makes a Democratic strategist’s day.
Clearly, politics can be a tough business, and campaigns will get ugly at times. But candidates caught up in the process of winning an election should never lose sight of the larger picture, especially in a primary race, and especially in a year like this one, where the stakes are so high. You’re fighting not just for a nomination but for the soul of your party. You’re trying to energize your supporters, bring more volunteers and energy to the party — developing a platform and a set of ideas that will set the direction of your party and, ultimately, of the country.
I had a reputation for enjoying the rough-and-tumble of the political process, but I never really liked or wanted to take the nasty approach in my campaigns for office. My approach was, essentially, “I’m Tom DeLay. Here’s what I believe in, and here’s how I’d like to see the country go forward.” Particularly in a primary, where you’re competing with people who should broadly agree with the political principles and values that you believe in, it’s critical to keep the debate within reason and always keep the larger goal of winning the general election in mind.
Thankfully, most of the Republican primary races we’re seeing this year are closer to the Kansas model than the Michigan one. The races have been hard-fought but not divisive, and Republicans in so many key races are coming together for the larger mission of defeating the Democrats this fall.
And what we’re hearing out of Washington these days should persuade even the most skeptical Republican that now is the time to unite, if only to ensure we elect the kind of Congress in November that can stop this president and his agenda. One of the last fights between Capitol Hill and the White House before lawmakers left town for the summer recess tells you all you need to know about what’s at stake in November.
You’d never have learned it reading the pro-Obama mainstream media, but the Republicans in the House did exactly what they were supposed to do when President Obama put in his request for billions of dollars in new money to deal with the border crisis. Mr. Obama accuses the Republicans of “failing to act” (a necessary prelude to excuse his own unilateral action in the coming weeks), but in fact the House did act; it just didn’t give the president everything he wanted.
If Washington were working the way our Constitution intended, the Senate would then put up its own version, the two chambers would negotiate, and the president, in the end, would decide whether to sign or veto what is presented to him from Congress. To argue — as so many media pundits did — that the House failed to “do its duty” by passing something the president wasn’t ready to sign fundamentally misunderstands how laws are made under our system.
You can bet the president’s lawyers are working overtime while Congress is out of town, trying to figure how far Mr. Obama can go with unilateral executive orders on key issues such as immigration, climate change and tax reform. With the growing panic among Democrats that they are about to lose the Senate as well as the House in November, we could see some real unconstitutional overreach from this White House in the coming months.
There was a telling incident on the House floor in the immigration debate, when former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, violated House protocol by crossing over to personally confront Rep. Tom Marino. The Pennsylvania Republican had the gall to point out — correctly — the failures of Mrs. Pelosi and her own party to deal with the issue when they were in total charge of Congress. Such breaches of decorum demonstrate one thing with absolute clarity: Our side is winning. We’re getting under the opposition’s skin, and they’re losing their cool.
The stakes are high; the trend lines are good. All the more reason for Republicans to make sure that any animosity from the primary season is long forgotten by the time Election Day rolls around.
• Tom DeLay, a former congressman from Texas and House majority leader from 2003 to 2005, writes a weekly column for The Washington Times and www.washingtontimes.com.