So where do they go for a message that will resonate with voters?
The old tried and true issue for Republicans has usually been to scare Americans about some foreign threat and attempt to paint the Democrats as "weak on defense" (it worked to beat Sen. John Kerry, didn't it?) Obviously Romney is relying on that old canard when he tries to get people to believe that President Obama is an "appeaser." But with the American public's weariness with war and Obama's demonstrated competence in focusing our efforts to not only get out of Iraq, but to kill bin Laden and defeat al Qaeda, its not working this time. The one tool they'll try to exploit will be Iran...so watch for MUCH more talk about that in the coming months.
The other issue Republicans try to make hay with is the federal deficit. But as I've mentioned before, with the looming defense cuts agreed to in the debt ceiling deal and the Bush tax cuts set to expire, they'll have to be focused this year on bills that would actually increase the deficit. So I doubt we'll be hearing much on that one in the months ahead.
What President Obama and the Democrats have done over the last couple of years is take away from Republicans three of their standard issues...the economy, foreign policy, and the deficit.
That's the good news.
But the bad news is the question of what they have left...cultural wedge issues and racist dog whistles. Expect the rhetoric to ramp up along those lines.
As an example, take a look at what Romney posted on his web site today. Is he cheering the drop in the unemployment rate and the fact that the economy is obviously improving? Of course not. He's warning you that your religious freedom is being threatened because the Obama administration is working to ensure that all women have access to contraception.
On January 20, 2012, the Obama administration affirmed a rule that would force Roman Catholic hospitals, charities, and universities to purchase health insurance for their employees that includes coverage for contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization, in violation of their religious principles. This is wrong...
But, now, more than two centuries after the drafting of the Bill of Rights, religious liberty is facing the most serious assault in generations. And the assault is coming from liberalism itself...
What the Obama administration has done is indefensible. But this is about even more than President Obama denying America’s Catholics their constitutionally protected rights. This is about the preservation of our freedom.
Make no mistake about it...just as the fight over Civil Rights was framed as an assault on Woolworth's right to deny African Americans a seat at the lunch counter, Republicans will now side with the Catholic Bishops to deny women access to contraception.
In case you haven't heard, this is about the ACA regulation that requires all health care plans to cover contraception. The administration did grant a waiver to churches and religious institutions who primarily cover people of the same faith. But religious universities and hospitals who tend to employ the general public have been given one year to come in to compliance.
Due to my own personal history, I want to emphasize that this is not just an issue of birth control. Many women like me have also needed some of these medications for other health issues and Romney would side with the Catholic Bishops in denying that access to thousands of women.
This is likely the kind of battle we'll be having to fight this election year. While it makes me sad to think that we'll have to go back to struggles we thought we won in the 60's and 70's, I don't think the Republicans will be successful in "taking our country back" to those days.