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The election is now 24 hours away, and unless virtually all the nation’s pollsters are pulling a collective Dewey-Truman, it seems fairly clear that the Republicans are poised to regain control of the House of Representatives and reach at least near-parity in the Senate. And while there will be much rejoicing on the Right over this clear and unmistakable rejection of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi agenda, as well as over individual results (go Rubio!), it is important to remember that the GOP is still digging itself out of a very large (and largely deserved) hole, and that this election, for all the focus on the “Tea Party movement” and “conservative revival,” will represent far more a stern rebuke to the Democrats than an endorsement of any specific, actionable, alternative path forward.
The Republicans actually face three major challenges if they hope to go beyond this tactical victory and build an effective and sustained electoral majority at the national level. First, they have to coalesce around an agenda capable of gaining and retaining the support of a majority of the electorate. In theory, this shouldn’t be that hard to do; this is a center-right country, so a center-right agenda – or even, after the left’s excesses of the past two years, a right-center-right agenda – ought to be broadly popular. A squishy, Bush-ite, “moderate” agenda won’t do – recent experience ought to make that perfectly clear. A “purist” Tea Party agenda won’t do either – there are simply too many moderate conservatives and independents who are cut from different cloth. But an agenda that harnesses the impulses of limited government and fiscal responsibility that are driving both the Tea Parties and the massive turn of independents toward the GOP, that proposes practical conservative policies to reignite economic growth while retaining the irreducible “safety net” that voters want, and that de-prioritizes the most divisive social issues, ought to be an achievable thing.