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There was no dispute between right and left on Inauguration Day. President Obama's speech was neither moderate nor conciliatory. It was a liberal's call for big government and a rejection of the idea that serious reform of entitlement programs is required. Those liberals who were certain that Obama would move to the center in the second term - or if they weren't, told us so anyway - are no doubt elated.
But this is good news for the Republican Party as well. In 2009 the GOP held its collective breath, nervous that the incoming president might pursue a pro-growth, centrist approach and effectively push Republicans to the far end of the political spectrum. Instead, the president went after Obamacare and a stimulus - and Democrats got shellacked in 2010. The same pattern is evident here. If the president really wants only more government, higher taxes and international retreat, Republicans can unify in common determination to keep the country from sliding much farther to the left. Whatever strategic or ideological differences they may have, they are united in a common interest in not allowing debt, spending and the liberal welfare state to expand even further.
Let me be clear: If the government has to operate for four more years on continuing resolutions to prevent a giant tax hike and a further explosion in our debt, that is the desirable course. Certainly the House GOP should present all its alternatives - on spending, on entitlement and tax reform - but, rather than shut down the government (another losing stance for the right and the precursor to a retreat), Republicans should simply keep spending flat. That, considering the president's huge ambitions, would be a major accomplishment.
Is the GOP the party of no? Well, no to Obama's collectivist vision. The challenge now for conservatives is to come up with a center-right agenda that makes sense and that will persuade off-year election voters to keep the House in their hands and deliver the Senate.
To do the latter, the GOP will need to make smart, practical choices in candidates. Every Todd Mourdock nominated is another vote for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and his party's continued control of the Senate.