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Temporarily at Sea

7:00 AM, Oct 17, 2013 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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At sea aboard the ms Noordam, off the coast of Greece
THE WEEKLY STANDARD cruisers were supposed to go ashore today in Greece. But high seas prevented the cruise ship from docking at Katakolon, so we're unfortunately missing the ruins at Olympia.

Elephant Drawing GOP

Our extra day at sea seems a metaphor for the state of the Republican party: The GOP is temporarily at sea, and disappointed it couldn't get to where it hoped to be; many of its members are frustrated about unfulfilled wishes and missed opportunities; but almost all understand that the ship was constrained by conditions beyond its control, that the cruise remains enjoyable and has been very much worthwhile—and that it's still going in the right direction.

But are Republicans still going mostly in the right direction? Conventional wisdom and current snap polling may suggest no, but I think the answer is yes. It's true that there have been unforced Republican tactical errors and that there will now be unnecessary intra-Republican recriminations. Still, Republican efforts over the last weeks have reminded the electorate that it is the Democrats who are the party of 1) the nightmare of Obamacare, 2) the burden of the ever-increasing public debt, and 3) the arrogance of Washington, D.C. Those reminders are worth a lot. So while the GOP has paid some price in the recent skirmishes, the greater price, I suspect, will end up being borne by Democrats.

Now, with the skirmishing over and a tactical retreat accomplished, the GOP has a chance to regroup and rethink, so as to be better prepared for the next encounter in the new year. The higher ground is there to be taken. If Republicans can focus over the next few months on the real-world failures of Obamacare (rather than engaging in a wholly theoretical "defunding" campaign conducted entirely within the conservative echo chamber), while holding the line on immigration (rather than doing truly disastrous damage to the party by one way or the other acceding to or compromising with the Senate bill), and unveiling new elements of a limited government/Main Street-and-family-friendly positive reform agenda (rather than embracing various corporatist wish lists), the GOP should enter the next skirmish better positioned than it was this time. Today's tactical retreat can be the precursor to the new year's victory.

But of course the real battle occurs on Election Day 2014 and 2106. So, to get back to the cruise ship analogy: We failed to make land in Olympia, and beat a tactical retreat to sea. We'll see how things go tomorrow in Santorini. But we're still on course for Athens. There we'll have a chance to recall the true glory that was Greece, as Republicans will in November of 2014 and 2016 have a chance to begin to restore the glory that is America.

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