Years ago, when I was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, we would conduct force-on-force training at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. It’s a vast complex in a high desert environment where training was quite realistic. We would conduct maneuvers against what was termed “the world-class OPFOR” or opposition forces, who mimicked Soviet war doctrine while we used the new “AirLand Battle” tactics to defeat them.
In many cases units who fought the OPFOR came up short, not due to our doctrine, but due to our execution of it. That’s the point: you can have the best plan in the world and if it is poorly executed, you lose.
After each operation, we would gather with the observer controllers (OC) to evaluate our performance. It was brutally honest. Why? Because in combat, people die and that is a brutal reality. So, you train hard to win and bring your team home. That means you take inventory of your mistakes to get better the next time you execute the mission. And when you do, you focus on what occurred on the desert floor during the battle, not critique the personalities of the players. But even when focused on the raw facts of the performance, the After Action Reviews (AAR) were sometime tough to swallow. Fortunately, we had a legendary OC who made things a bit easier to digest by beginning each AAR by saying of our results, “It ain’t good, it ain’t bad, it’s just what happened.” So, let’s begin taking inventory of a recent battle for the legislature in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Republicans had a very disappointing Election Day 2023, especially at the state level. It was an important battle for the GOP to secure majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly so that our Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin could advance an agenda he felt was best for the Commonwealth. We failed. And just as we did at the NTC, let’s set personalities aside. Playing the “blame game” doesn’t produce future victories. But addressing performance honestly can help produce future victories. Let’s begin by doing what the OCs did at the NTC; ask important questions to prompt the soldiers to think about how they performed during the battle. There’s much Republicans should consider.
- Are we speaking to all Virginians in a way that encourages them to trust us? Or are we stuck in the culture wars that frankly alienate suburban women, young voters, and independents?
- Did we advance a legislative agenda at the state level that actually was achievable in the past legislative environment when we had at least one chamber?
- Did we have people working with the legislature who were knowledgeable concerning the people (members), the policies, and the politics to make the case for legislative success? (News Flash: a majority is required to pass a bill, including the budget.)
- Do we understand that effective governance also requires building relationships, not putting down markers or drawing red lines that shut down communication?
- Are we so galvanized to our talking points that we can’t negotiate an 80 percent solution (the Reagan approach) and then later fight for the remaining 20 percent?
- Do both sides fear compromise as somehow undermining principle?
Republicans need to consider how we engage the voting public. This isn’t simply a matter of social media, but what we say and how we say it to gain trust to advance a rational agenda. We also must have an agenda that is achievable. If you promise the people the moon, you won’t succeed. Be measured and focus on small steps that will actually advance your cause. As in football, sometimes it’s better to gain legislative yardage on the ground rather than going for the “long bomb.”
It’s also important for the Governor to have a cabinet and staff that have relationships with the members of the General Assembly who understand the existing policy, why it’s there, and the politics of the members whose votes you are seeking. Successful legislation depends on trustworthy relationships. And those relationships are not enhanced by ultimatums or petty retribution against a legislator who didn’t vote your way.
Finally, you need to be willing to accept the 80 percent solution and hope to come back later for the remaining 20 percent. That means compromise. You can compromise without sacrificing your principles.
Look, I am very conservative and stayed elected in a swing district for 16 years. The key to success is to be honest but reasonable, principled but not paralyzed. I was 100 percent prolife and pro-Second Amendment, but that was not my sole purpose for serving nor did either dominate my legislative work. I made a point to maintain effective relationships with the other side of the aisle. And in the process got much accomplished that mattered. It’s just what happened.