The government shutdown drama is over, and already it feels like ancient history. But Republicans made missteps and suffered for them, so it’s worth pointing out how Republicans can recover and succeed in 2014 and beyond. In short, they must adopt an agenda— and run on it.

A couple points to hit: The nation’s finances, which are famously in bad shape. It’s simple math, to borrow one of President Obama’s favorite phrases. Our country cannot keep wracking up trillion-dollar deficits and likewise continue to operate the way it operates. It’s not sustainable in the long-term. Something will have to give and Republicans would be wise to point out practical ways to fix that problem – to avoid devastating consequences in the near and long term.

Similarly, entitlement programs will cease to operate near the way the now operate—and to the effectiveness they operate—without serious reforms that better reflect the way most Americans now live. In order to save the system, it must be changed to account for the fact that people are living longer and that they’re living in retirement longer. That’s great news for Americans, but not for the entitlements which weren’t designed for this age.

Fiscal insanity will destroy America’s standard of living over time, far more than any government program could possibly ever help. It’s up to Republicans to detail serious and practical plans to avert crisis.

Beyond those issues, there’s Obamacare. The pain of Obama’s signature legislation is just beginning to set in. We are learning daily that Obama broke his promise that people who like their health care plan can keep it under Obamacare. We also are learning daily how such a massive program can inflict such massive damage on people who just wanted to keep the health care plan that was right for them.

Republicans have an opportunity to offer a better way forward. That opportunity will next coincide with the second mid-term election for an incumbent president. Those elections always favor the out party – in this case, the Republicans.

Simply stated: If Republicans want to maximize their chances, they must stand for something, and there is no time like the present to do it. They must have an agenda.

Republicans should know this and embrace it. Adopting an agenda and sticking to it has produced huge victories for them in and can do so again.

In the 1980 election, Ronald Reagan embraced a specific agenda and rode into Washington with a tremendous victory. Rather than offer more of the Carter/Ford politics of creeping big government, Reagan offered a very specific contrasting agenda to no longer manage government but instead to change its course. He became more specific as the election progressed – over the objections of some advisors, I might add. Once in office, Reagan did the politically unimaginable – he kept his promise by enacting the core elements of his agenda. Republicans were rewarded with a big second term victory for Reagan.

In 1994, Republicans once again went the specific route. “The Contract With America,” derided by the media as a gimmick, provided voters with a roadmap of what Republicans intended to do. Republicans adopted that agenda – and won. And once in power, they acted upon that agenda and won new respect for the Republican party.

At a time when government is failing its constituents, it makes sense to adopt a solution-driven agenda. And besides, telling people where they are going is always a good idea for a leader. Doing so will be key to a Republican victory in 2014 and essential in 2016.

Thomas G. Del Beccaro is former chair of the California Republican party.

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