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Over the past few weeks and months, Obama has been winning. His administration has proved unstoppable on just about every item on its agenda, from environmental and energy regulation to illegal immigration to gay marriage to Obamacare. Indeed, the president recently acknowledged this obliquely, saying that gun control “has been the one area where I feel that I’ve been most frustrated and most stymied.” It’s difficult to find any other area where conservatives have held back the progressive tide. The next president will be hard-pressed to contain the damage to our economy, our international interests, and our liberty.
Two competing narratives dominate the 2016 GOP nomination contest. The first stresses competence and experience. Obama, this narrative goes, came to office as a community organizer with no real-world experience and little political experience. He surrounded himself with ignorant young hacks, and has stumbled from one mistake to another. Thus we need to nominate an experienced administrator with a proven record as an executive: no more first-term senators.
The second narrative is that despite his inexperience, Obama has achieved his goals. He surrounded himself with ideologues. His vision and his will were all it took. Experience, according to this narrative, is overrated. We need a candidate who can inspire.
What if both narratives are wrong?
In fact, Obama has not achieved his successes through formal, Constitutional means, but through executive agencies and the courts. Those democratically-unaccountable institutions are comprised of people who share Obama’s vision and have largely been happy to stretch the boundaries of their institutions’ power and the law. The only arena in which Obama has been obliged to persuade, cajole, or fire is defense; even there, a culture of deference to elected civilian authority has made Obama’s job fairly easy. Otherwise, he just rode the Federal Beast in the direction it already wanted to go. He has been able to spend his days golfing, while the media — a cadre of progressive activists — has been there to cheer him on.
A Republican president will not have it so easy. Bureaucrats outwait elected officials, then outwit them with organizational jiu-jitsu, foot-dragging, and press leaks. Firing clandestinely insubordinate civil servants is no easy matter. Meanwhile, courts suddenly become skeptics of executive power when the executive in question is a Republican, and of duly-passed legislation passed by Republican majorities. The media will not give any quarter. Before the next president can achieve anything on his or her agenda, the ascendant unelected governing institutions must be brought under control. Containment is not enough; only rollback will do.
This will require both competence and vision. Competence and vision such as we saw in the last president who was determined to roll back an evil empire. Do any of the current candidates have that combination? A few give me hope. But even in the best of circumstances, it will be a difficult and bloody battle. May God grant the Republican Party, and the United States, the wisdom to choose well — and the fortitude to stand for liberty.