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Charlie Harper: GOP wins bring responsibilities

Republicans have had a couple of weeks to digest their sweeping victories from November 4. They now have under their belt a workable majority in the U.S. Senate with an additional pickup in Louisiana looking more and more likely. They have their largest majority in the House since the Hoover administration. "Blue" states such as Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts have Republicans measuring drapes in their governor's mansions; 68 of 98 partisan state legislative chambers reside in Republican hands.

There remains, however, one prize that continues to be elusive for Republicans. The White House remains occupied by a Democrat for at least two more years. Between the executive powers of the president and the Senate's filibuster rules, the GOP will remain limited in what it can accomplish in Congress for at least the next two years. Republicans, therefore, at the state and local levels, will need to be strategic in what they choose to do with their victories this year if they wish to get the bigger prize two years from now. As the election cycles of 2008, 2010, 2012, and now 2014 have shown, the American voting public is fickle.

It seems we're quite good at voting against governing majorities in both parties. David Perdue won Georgia largely on the claim that he was neither Harry Reid nor Barack Obama, and would not be voting to implement their agenda. In many ways, Republicans nationally were able to motivate voters to side with them against an unpopular president.

In 2016, the challenge will be to get voters to vote "for" Republicans, and a specific Republican at the top of the ticket. The GOP will again spend much of the next two years attempting to select a standard bearer who can hold the fractured coalition of those who consider themselves conservative while simultaneously hoping to attract enough centrist and independent voters to achieve an electoral majority. This will be no easy feat.

Republicans who seem to have made a sport of dividing themselves in the name of purity were able to overcome their distrust of each other during this past election cycle due to an even greater distrust of the president. Less than a year ago, those who supported Chris Christie or John McCain were not likely to be seen with Ted Cruz or Rand Paul. And yet, during the past several months, each appeared here as a surrogate to help Gov. Nathan Deal with re-election or David Perdue hold Georgia's Senate seat for the GOP.

They will likely be back soon, as will many others looking for a presidential nomination. The 2016 race is now officially under way.

Monday morning, Johnny Isakson officially announced that he will be seeking a third term in the Senate. Courtesy of the new Republican majority, he will do so as the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

With Republican majorities comes the responsibility to govern, which it is critical that the GOP remember even as it remains in perpetual campaign mode. Those in Washington and back here in Atlanta will have to demonstrate more in 2016 and 2018 than they did to win this year. President Obama will not be on the ballot again.

Instead, it will be Republicans who will have much of the responsibility to demonstrate that the country and the state are on either the right track or wrong track when voters return to the polls.

Republicans would do well to drop nostalgic visions of earlier times and messages about "taking our country back." These messages do well with the standard GOP core voting block, but do little to convince independents and younger voters that Republicans have an interest in governing for tomorrow.

While GOPers can be counted on to interject copious references to Ronald Reagan in the upcoming rhetorical wars, they should also remember that Reagan's greatest contribution to the conservative movement was his ability to communicate why Republicans offered a better alternative. He did so in a smiling and welcoming way.

Reagan didn't offer purity tests or punishment for those who didn't agree with him 100 percent of the time or have a lengthy partisan pedigree. He and other partisans were quite happy to have a coalition of "Reagan Democrats" to help elect Republicans and govern as conservatives.

Republicans have set the table with the 2014 election cycle, with many opportunities to demonstrate positive conservative examples as alternatives to the current status quo of malaise. To do so, however, will require Republicans to lead and to govern.

This is a time neither to be timid nor to grandstand on meaningless gestures. Republicans must pick their battles wisely, and understand what it is they are ultimately trying to win. Stunts designed to appease a partisan base will not win the White House in 2016.

Effective conservative governance that allows limited government to work effectively will be needed to demonstrate competence. Reducing the size and scope of government in our daily lives would demonstrate principle. Doing so with leaders and messengers who smile and are welcoming would demonstrate that once again Republicans are serious about brining new voters into the fold. And new voters are the only way Republicans will gain the victory they covet in 2016.