Is the GOP gonna party like it’s 1989?
Judging from the reaction of some New Hampshire Republicans to the announcement by former Gov. John H. Sununu that he will run for chairman of the state GOP, all that’s left to do is to pick out new furniture for the governor’s office and chill the champagne. Apparently it will be as simple as Sununu holding a press conference. The people of New Hampshire will have an epiphany: the Democrats really are ruining the state, and Governor Lynch really is the worst governor in state history. And, as one, the voters are going to get up out of their chairs. They’re going to go straight to the nearest windows, open the windows, stick their heads out and yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to vote for Lynch and the Democrats anymore.” I hate to be a party-pooper, but my fellow Republicans it’s nearly 2009. That’s 20 years since former Governor Sununu was Governor Sununu, and a lot has changed in the interim. For one thing, the number of voters who identify themselves as Republicans has shrunk. In fact, registered Democrats may now outnumber registered Republicans. This means Republicans have to do a lot more than just “energize the base” to win elections. They also need to attract unaffiliated or independent voters, who by far are the largest group of voters. What makes that difficult is something else that has changed since Chairman-to-be Sununu was Governor Sununu. The Democrats “get it,” by which I mean the Democrats, or at least the Democrats who are calling the shots, understand that an income tax or a sales tax is the proverbial third rail of New Hampshire politics. But unlike the Republicans, the Democrats manage not to come across as just one-trick ponies. They appear relevant to the voters because they position themselves as problem-solvers. The message is that they are going to fix public education, health care and the environment. And while their fixes haven’t worked and have either made the problems worse or caused new problems, the electoral success of Governor Shaheen and Governor Lynch should tell Republicans that in New Hampshire, at least for the time being, you can’t beat something with nothing. So if the goal is to turn Blue Hampshire back into Red Hampshire, or at least Purple Hampshire, the next two years can’t be just about the budget deficit and a constitutional amendment aimed at the Supreme Court’s Claremont decisions. Democrats became the majority party, in part, by co-opting the tax issue. Now Republicans need to return the favor. They do so in two ways. One by demonstrating in specific terms what Sununu already has stated generally - Lynch is a really bad governor. Ironically, it’s not a hard case to make on the very issues the Democrats call their own. We have doubled per-pupil spending over the past 10 years, with no material improvement in the quality of public education, never mind a commensurate improvement. Health insurance mandates are making insurance unaffordable. While Lynch’s regional greenhouse is a stealth tax. But that’s not enough. Republicans also must set forth their own plans on these and other issues important to voters. And they must do so in bold colors, not pale pastels.