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Republicans are in a good position to take back the White House in 2016 if they expand upon the successful strategy they used to gain control of the Senate last week.

Whether they are able to do that, however, remains to be seen.

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The 2014 election differed from a few of the more recent elections for the GOP because the establishment didn't back the extreme candidates whose gaffs and missteps cost them votes.

There were no comments on the campaign trail from GOP candidates about how women can "shut down" pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape." Missouri Congressman Todd Akin lost his 2012 Senate bid when he made that remark.

We didn't hear about any GOP candidates proclaiming "I'm not a witch," as Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell said, along with her 2007 comment on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News show that "American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains."

The list of bizarre comments from right-wing candidates in recent years is long and well documented. The icing on the proverbial cake, though, has to be the 2012 presidential election, an election which by all rights the GOP should have won given the state of the economy and President Barack Obama's first term record and ratings, yet one which the Democrats came out victorious in after the best GOP candidates were devoured by their own in the primaries and Mitt Romney got the nomination, basically, because he was the last man standing when the carnage was over.

This election cycle, the establishment fought back. It didn't support the wing-nuts and, in fact, devoted a lot of time, energy and money to making sure they didn't get through the primaries. How that plays out in the next two years, however, will determine whether the party returns to the White House.

There are still plenty of GOP extremists in Congress, and a lot of them have big support among their base. The establishment needs to put out a clear message now that it will put every effort into extracting these folks from their congressional jobs in 2016 if they continue with the antics they have displayed throughout Obama's term.

Obama is a lame duck. And with the GOP controlling both the House and Senate, they can put up a lot of their reasonable ideas for reforms that likely will also get support from Democrats.

But that is contingent on the party jettisoning its philosophy of opposing all things Obama and eliminating the aversion to compromise that has paralyzed government.

Over the past six years the GOP has built up a negative reputation rooted in extremism. The shift this year is directly attributable to the party's change in attitude and in aggressively vetting candidates to ensure the best ones were put on the ballot. But those same winners, as well as many of the others in Congress, still have to worry about the fringe coming back to attack them in the 2016 primaries. Too many otherwise effective GOP leaders have been too paralyzed by fear of the fringe to actually govern, and it is up to the party establishment to let them know that the marching orders for the next two years are to move the country forward, and anyone who takes away from that focus with extreme antics won't be supported in the next election.

We don't need any more costly government shutdowns or political brinkmanship. The Democrats were able to stay in control of the Senate for this long because the country had lost faith in the GOP's ability to effectively govern.

If we have to put up with two more years of posturing and anti-Obama antics where government is seen as dysfunctional and Republicans are blamed for obstructionism, rest assured the party isn't going to even come close to winning the White House in 2016, and it is likely to lose a lot of the seats in Congress that it has gained.

The party cannot let that happen. Republicans have two years to show America how they can effectively bring about some positive change. It is an opportunity that must not be wasted.

Jim Lee is the Carroll County Times' Editor. Email him at jim.lee@carrollcountytimes.com.

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