- - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Midterm congressional elections, decisive as they may be, are always about the past, usually about a president’s performance. Voters get a chance to grade a president and his performance, and by this measure, voters flunked President Obama in 2010 and 2014. The telling election results included not just House and Senate pick-ups for the Republicans, but control of more governorships and state legislatures than at any time in decades.

Mr. Obama surprised many voters when he was re-elected in 2012, despite the midterm rebuke. He didn’t say he was wrong about anything, his failures were accumulating, and he would be rebuked again in another midterm election in 2014. He made no midterm corrections after either rebuke. When voters chastised Bill Clinton in the 1994 midterms the most flexible of modern presidents merely abandoned or altered unpopular policies: “Shucks, what are you going to do with a good ol’ boy like me?” Mr. Obama, whom nobody would mistake for a Bubba, doubled down and proceeded with his ideologically driven policy agenda.

He was re-elected in 2012, so the conventional wisdom goes, because his team mastered technology in ways that left the Republicans years behind, the Republican nominee wasn’t a very good candidate (mere ambition is never enough), or because the right folks vote only in presidential years. All these factors played a role in Mr. Obama’s re-election, but the real difference between a midterm and a presidential year election is that voters in presidential elections look forward, not to past performance.

Everybody makes mistakes, and what does the opposing party propose to do about them? The Republicans have told voters, loud and clear, that they don’t like Obamacare and want to get rid of it. But that won’t be enough next year. What’s “the vision thing” about fixing not just Obamacare, but taxes, out-of-control spending, national defense and above all, immigration?

Donald Trump late last week spelled out what he would do to reform or change immigration policy, and this week Gov. Scott Walker published a detailed health care plan to replace Obamacare once repealed. Others are preparing to fill in the blanks of their ideas, and this will change the focus from the shortcomings of the other candidates to the reflections on the vision of the other candidates.

The Republican voters who select their favorites in primaries and caucuses early next year must resist the temptation to choose the man or woman they dislike least, but for the candidate they agree with most of the time and trust to deliver on those ideas. Most of all they must choose a candidate with character, and the ability to deal with challenges not even imagined on Election Day. They must ask which candidate who meets their requirements has the best chance to win in November.

Some will fail the character test. Others will be rejected for lacking the ability to win. Some will fail because they can’t make a persuasive case for what they want to do as president. Messrs. Trump and Walker have taken the first step. The others must follow soon. Comparisons are not always odious. Sometimes comparisons are crucial.


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