Nobody ever won a battle by surrendering.
In the wake of the great Republican midterm triumphs, when the American people decisively rejected the agenda of President Obama and the Democrats, a depressing but age-old debate has broken out among Republicans over what to do with their victory. And, unfortunately, we’re already hearing voices counseling moderation — that we should run from a fight with the president before it’s even begun.
It’s a tired old argument, one that history has disproved again and again. We’re told — not just by the mainstream media but even by some respected voices on Fox News and other conservative outlets — that confrontation will be counterproductive. The incoming Republican majorities in the House and Senate have to prove they can “govern,” which means taking off the table right now any idea of shutting down the government rather than fund the president’s misguided — and, at times, unconstitutional — policies. Going to the mat with the president, passing bills that everyone knows Mr. Obama will veto, will only undermine the Republican cause and turn voters off for 2016.
I have a little experience with this, and here’s my response: bunk.
The idea that a government shutdown is a political loser dates back to the 1990s, when our Republican majority repeatedly showed we were ready to let President Clinton close down the federal government rather than fund his priorities. Yes, we got beat up in some polls, and certainly the mainstream media played up Republican “intransigence” for all it was worth.
But here’s the bottom line: We kept our majority in Congress in 1996, even as Mr. Clinton was winning re-election. We lost a few seats, but there was nothing like the repudiation from the voters that the pundits were predicting (and secretly hoping for).
The whole pattern repeated itself in this election cycle. The mainstream media, in their wisdom, insisted that the government shutdown of October 2013 — this time over Obamacare — would prove a political disaster for Republicans. Voters, we were told ad nauseam, would remember who shut down the government and would remember come Election Day. Ask all those soon-to-be-unemployed Democratic congressmen and senators how those predictions worked out.
The irony is that while we hear all this advice for the Republicans to play nice, President Obama is clearly spoiling for a fight — no matter what message the voters tried to send Nov. 4. The president shows no interest in compromise. He has already thumbed his nose at the American people repeatedly in the weeks since the humiliating vote, vowing to do just what he wants.
Mr. Obama has gone ahead with his illegal amnesty immigration executive order and practically taunted critics who point out he lacks the authority to do so. His EPA is going right ahead with onerous regulations that will kill jobs and cripple industries, all to fight the discredited threat of “global warming.” His State Department is proceeding with a deeply misguided nuclear deal with the mullahs of Iran. His Health and Human Services Department is gearing up for another year of fiddling with the rules and requirements of Obamacare, relying, as Mr. Obama’s now-famous adviser Jonathan Gruber repeatedly put it, on the “stupidity of the American voter” to hide the fact that the law has been an unworkable disaster.
The president is rearing for a fight, and Republicans in Congress ought to give him one. Pass bills, defund executive orders, approve the Keystone pipeline. Put the minority Democrats on the spot for a change. Force them to declare whether they want to support their president or their Constitution. If the president wants to veto those bills, let him. Come January, Republicans will need barely more than a dozen Democratic senators and maybe 45 to 50 House Democrats to defect to override those vetoes. If the vetoes are sustained, we can take our case to the American people in November 2016 that the president and his party simply refuse to listen to their message.
Think of the Republican Congress as a pressure cooker, one that builds up the pressure on the White House and the Democrats with every vote. Republicans can force the president to do what the American people want or force him to explain continually why he won’t. Ignore the narrative the national media are trying to push; get out into the states and the districts with the message that Republicans are willing to fight for what they believe in.
Turn up the gas on the pressure cooker, and I guarantee it will be the other side that feels the heat.
• 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.