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What Do Republicans Want?

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Although negative political ads take a toll, in most elections voters respond to positive messages. 2014 may prove to be an exception to this rule, as Republicans have waged a relentlessly negative campaign. Their strategy is to fire up their base, drag in a few independents, and win based upon voter turnout. Republicans are assuming that most Independents and many Democrats won't show up because they are turned off by politics. Suppose this strategy works and Republicans control both the Senate and the House of Representatives. What can we expect?

The core Republican message is paradoxical: elect us because we don't like government. This was Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign pitch: "As President" I will cut marginal tax rates across the board for individuals and corporations... I will repeal burdensome regulations, and prevent the bureaucracy from writing new ones" Instead of growing the federal government, I will shrink it." Romney's blanket solution to America's problems was a reprise of the discredited maxims of Reaganomics: government is the problem; helping the rich get richer will inevitably help everyone else; and markets are inherently self correcting and therefore there's no need for government regulation -- whether the problem is bank fraud or polluted water. Republicans have continued these same themes in 2014.

Of course, in a midterm election, Republicans can't elect a new President. But if they control the House and Senate, they believe they can hobble Obama and the Federal government. Republican Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, explained that if Republicans were in charge of the Senate, "We're going to pass spending bills, and they're going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy." McConnell said the President could either sign these Republican-sponsored bills or face a government shutdown.

But beyond neutering Obama, what are Republicans angling for? Consider the major concerns of the American public and the Republican response. The Gallup Poll just completed a survey that asked about "the Nation's most important problem." 38 percent of respondents mentioned the economy as the biggest problem (a decline from previous years). The top four economic concerns were "economy in general"(14 percent), "unemployment/jobs"(12 percent), "Federal Budget Deficit" (3 percent), and "Gap between rich and poor" (3 percent).

The Republican response to these concerns is to paraphrase Mitt Romney. If they control Congress they would shrink the government, cut marginal tax rates, and cut regulations. (Note that Republicans don't talk about the budget deficit because it has been shrinking under Obama.)

Republicans won't discuss specific programs to address unemployment, the "hollowing out" of the middle class," raising the minimum wage, or anything that lessens the Gap between the rich and poor. (In 2012, candidate Romney was asked about growing concern regarding economic inequality and quipped, "I think [this concern is] about envy. I think it's about class warfare.")

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After the economy, the Gallup Poll respondents mentioned "Dissatisfaction with government" (18 percent), "Immigration" (15 percent), "Healthcare" (9 percent), and "Foreign Policy" (7 percent). It's apparent that voters are dissatisfied with Washington. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll asked voters, ""Are you inclined to reelect your representative in Congress, or are you inclined to look around for someone else to vote for?" 67 percent responded that they would look around for someone else to vote for.

Nonetheless, in most precincts, voters are stuck with the choices the two parties give them. And there is a difference between the two parties. For example, on immigration, Republican Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell voted no on comprehensive immigration reform. In a July 14, 2013, interview, McConnell said, "We need to seriously beef up the border security part. I think that's the key to getting a final outcome."

Americans continue to be divided over Obamacare with Democrats for it and Republicans opposed. On October 20, 2013, Republican McConnell described Obamacare as a "train wreck" adding "We're going to do everything we can in the future to repeal it."

Since President Obama's speech on confronting the ISIL terrorists the difference between Republicans and Democrats has narrowed. However, there are stark differences on most other issues such as global climate change. On March 7, 2010, Republican Mitch McConnell said, "I don't buy that climate is changing." Recently, McConnell was more circumspect. "Each side has their scientists and they can all go in and argue." (Nonetheless, it's clear that McConnell opposes EPA regulations that would cut pollution from coal-fed power plants.)

When we examine the policy positions of 2014 Republican candidates, such as Mitch McConnell, we see is that underlying Republican hatred of government is a fear of change. They embrace the status quo. Republicans don't want to break up big banks, or raise the minimum wage, or shutdown polluting industries, or provide women with access to health services, or close military bases, or feed and educate our children, because that would change the social order. Republicans like things the way they are: with rich white men calling all the shots.

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.

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