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Of course, that argument could be less convincing if the U.S. economy starts to grow at a faster clip, the unemployment rate falls and the stock market continues to make new highs. And Democrats are certain to try to keep Republicans back on their heels by demanding the GOP’s laundry list of spending cuts and by emphasizing the resulting pain.
Still, it’s hard not to feel as if Republicans now at least have a chance to change the debate. The question is whether the party’s “no compromise” wing learned a lesson during the fiscal-cliff fight.
Over the past few years, an increasing number of Capitol Hill Republicans seem to agree with former Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who long argued that he would rather be right and be in the minority than compromise on his principles and be in the majority. It is a silly position that shows a lack of respect for voters and an arrogance that has put the party into a deep hole.
The GOP’s overall image remains a serious problem, as is the variety of voices coming from the party. Given the party’s image, most voters are not likely to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt in any confrontation with the White House, and even when party leaders sound the right tone, uncompromising outside groups or ideologues on Capitol Hill undercut any more broadly appealing message.
Democrats have been a step and a half ahead of Republicans recently, taking advantage of divisions within the GOP, as well as of the tone coming from many in the party’s “no compromise” wing.
President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have been adept at calling for compromise and criticizing Republicans for being intransigent and inflexible at the same time that most Democrats have been equally stubborn (and willing to go over the fiscal cliff if Republicans had not caved).
With the GOP eager to compromise with Democrats on an immigration overhaul, Republicans will need to draw a contrast on fiscal issues with the president and his party. They can do that on spending, though doing so includes some risk.
But Republicans (and conservatives) on and off Capitol Hill must understand that appearing threatening, inflexible and angry may feel good, but it won’t improve the party’s image or, ultimately, achieve the party’s policy goals.
Stuart Rothenberg (@stupolitics) is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report (rothenbergpoliticalreport.com).