- - Monday, October 16, 2017


Is the Republican Party in trouble? The primary fight defeat in Alabama and the quick retirement signal by Sen. Bob Corker are not the only straws in the wind. Current polling shows Republicans trail Democrats by 8 percentage points in a generic 2018 House race.

The roots of the threat to the GOP “establishment” by Steve Bannon and others have been in evidence for some time. The Tea Party and its frustrated members are still around. What is different today is that with a working majority the party base is no longer patiently waiting for change.

At 35,000 feet, Republican troubles stem largely from an inability to go on offense. Health care, tax and infrastructure reform are all still on the launching pad. I appreciate why on any given issue some members vote against the party mainstream. But those default options and excuses to break from the pack cannot go on forever. Waiting for the perfect does crowd out the good.

The party operates much like a football team that can only field defensive players. Yes, those same players can sometimes pick up a fumble and dash across the goal line, but generally their mentality is to stop the Democratic offense from scoring.

Contrast this to the Democratic Party, which I give credit for one thing: bold ideas. Despite lacking intellect, these ideas tap into people’s emotions, which almost always override logical concerns.

Democrats’ latest and largest idea is single-payer health care. Other countries’ experiences with the approach be damned. We’ve also recently seen $15 minimum wages suggested for a national standard despite the recorded carnage in the entry-level job market where they have been tried. Universal Basic Income, where everyone gets a check from the government (i.e., productive taxpayers), is another new bold yet harebrained Democrat proposal.

Democrats are also less likely to wage the internecine wars that chronically plague Republicans. Consider the different party reactions to basic labor law. In 2009, the Democratic Party introduced legislation with the Orwellian name of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would effectively do away with unimpeded choice and secret ballots in union elections.

Why were Democrats opposed to secret ballots? Because as then-United Food and Commercial Workers International Union President Joe Hansen admitted, “[Unions] can’t win that way anymore.” Their radical solution: Go on offense and remove the voting requirement. Ninety-eight percent of House Democratic members signed on to this radical idea.

The Republican defense won that round by blocking the idea in the Senate. Unfortunately for employees, the election process can still be hijacked due to a loophole in the law. When Republicans got full control of Congress as well as the presidency this year they put forward the Employee Rights Act (ERA), a bill to guarantee secret ballot elections.

Yet the offense-impaired Republican team has only signed up 45 percent of their members as co-sponsors. And that is despite 80 percent public support of the bill across voting groups, including Democrats and union households. Not to belabor the point, but 98 percent to shut down secret ballots and only 45 percent to guarantee them? What’s wrong with that picture?

How do you reconcile such public approval of the ERA with the Republicans slow-walking the issue through Congress? This isn’t a bill that should divide Republican Party factions. It’s not an issue that pits fiscal hawks against war hawks, or libertarians against social conservatives. Unlike heath care, tax or infrastructure issues, there are few moving pieces, and the budget impact is negligible. The holdup in passing the ERA may be something you’ll hear Mr. Bannon reference: cronyism. I’ll fill you in on that ugly picture in my next column.

Offense is the non-technical street name for the gene that is broadly missing in the Republican Party. Not enough members are accused of having a knife in their teeth. They are risk-adverse. And there is no perceived risk in doing nothing until the wolf is at the door.

Republican in Name Only (RINO) is a political slur heard often. On the other hand, with the demise of the Blue Dog Democrats, there’s no such thing as a DINO outside of Jurassic Park. Democrats’ unity, offensive mentality and unwillingness to admit defeat (they just haven’t won “yet”) means they win. Not all at once, but surely over time.

• Richard Berman is the president of Berman and Company, a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C.

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