11/06/2014 01:42 pm ET Updated Jan 06, 2015

GOP's True Identity

Senate Republicans can run (and they did effectively to win the majority) but they can't hide. If they persist with unpopular policies they espoused in the minority, their controversial views will receive a high degree of publicity that was absent when they were outnumbered by Senate Democrats.

When the Senate GOP was in the minority, most of its outside-the-mainstream policies were side-tracked or buried altogether by the Democratic majority. Consequently, these Republican policy stances moved through Congress largely under the radar and attracted mercifully little attention. The Democrats were unwittingly doing their Republican counterparts a favor by keeping out of the limelight GOP positions in conflict with the majority of public opinion. We are talking about GOP legislative opposition to: raising the minimum wage; guaranteeing gender equity in paychecks; instituting a national public works program to rejuvenate decaying infrastructure; and expanding the social safety net.

Nowhere was the GOP Senate minority more out of step with the majority of the public than on the issue of climate change. Republicans' outright denial or agnostic stance toward global warming clashed with the activist position taken by the majority of the youth in their own party, not to mention the public-at-large.

A number of Republican senators have voiced a desire to abolish the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and delegate its duties to the respective states. As a lesser alternative, some Republicans are pushing for Congress to assume EPA's duties in drafting and promulgating major anti-pollution regulations. Polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans reject both ideas. Congress assuming EPA's regulatory responsibilities gains little traction, primarily because of the public's belief that the legislative body lacks sufficient time and expertise.

At their own peril, Republicans have conflated deregulation of red tape bedeviling business with environmental regulations protecting public health. The electorate overwhelmingly support dispensing with the former, not with the latter.

If congressional Republicans don't moderate their unpopular positions in the bright glare of publicity accorded the controlling party on Capitol Hill, many voters will be stunned to discover whom they put into office in protest against President Obama.

It won't be easy for Republicans to embrace compromise to demonstrate their ability to govern rather than to merely obstruct. The party has a number of conservative flamethrowers, some newly elected, who are avowed climate change deniers and talk about standing fast in the wake of Republicans' successful scapegoating of Obama.

Can the Republican senators looking for some middle ground, win over the most combative members of their caucus? The task is complicated by several of the senators showing interest in seeking the presidency in 2016. They want to carve out an identity that ingratiates them with the hard-core conservative base that is so instrumental in the primaries.

Thanks to personal ambition, internecine warfare lurks just beneath the surface.