Twenty Years Ago: Republicans Learned How to Win
On September 27th, the nation will be stumbling across a very significant and illustrative anniversary -- and yet the very people who need to be enlightened remain clueless. It is the 20th anniversary of the rollout of the Contract with America, a document that nationalized a Congressional midterm election for perhaps the first time. This nationalization of the ‘94 election was the key component – though not the only one – in an historic landslide wave election. The Republicans swept 54 Democrats out of the House, including Speaker Tom Foley, and eight from the Senate, and took control of both chambers. This broke a 40-year drought in the House, by the way.
No one thought at the time that drought would ever end. At least no one not named Newt Gingrich.
Now say what you will about what the GOP did with control, history is pretty clear that they indeed forced Bill Clinton to govern more conservatively in a lot of ways. Welfare reform and some other regulatory changes coming out of that Congress were beneficial to the nation for many years. The changes were so beneficial that Bill Clinton even takes credit for them to this day. (More on this later). As a side note, the media threw a collective and obvious hissy over the Democrats losing, and the days where anyone actually thought the media was unbiased were numbered.
Big time talk radio -- aka Rush’s show -- was in a rapid growth curve. Yes, it was a media turning point too.
And yet, those successes are not the main point of this anniversary. The salient note is that 1994 demonstrated how nationalizing an election -- especially when there’s a statist in the White House who wants government to dominate our lives, including our healthcare -- is how Republicans win. Those were the days of the HillaryCare threat, not to mention a corrupt majority in Congress. Opposing such a president and his party wins every time it’s tried. Oh, and it’s the right thing to do to boot, as if anyone in Washington still cares about that.
Consider another teachable: The same lesson was relived with the 2010 midterms. Statist in the White House? Check. Government control of everything? Check. Government healthcare? Check. Corrupt majorities in Congress? Double check. So what happened in 2010? A national tidal wave washed 63 House Democrats and six Senators off to the side -- and also swept away some 700 state legislative seats as well. This allowed Republicans to control the drawing of Congressional districts almost everywhere -- a very key power in a census year. It was an even bigger win, at least numerically, than 1994 was.
Let’s do the math: not only did nationalizing an election work for House and Senate races, success even trickled down to state assemblies in a very big way. There was no Contract with America per se that gained any traction, but the 2009 emergence of the Tea Party movement -- and the volatile town halls of the same year -- dictated the terms of the election, and it was all about one effort to role back Obama’s power, especially Obama Care. It was without a doubt a national issue election -- and the issue was Obama.
History matters, and there are no elections as valid as these two for comparison to this year’s vote. The history is clear. The human nature is clear. The zeitgeist is clear. And yet, if the national party does not tap into that zeitgeist, they will not capture it. Unfortunately, the wizards and consultants and masters of the Republican universe refuse to do so. In fact, they are very quick to try and destroy any Tea Party-leaning candidate who is trying to nationalize the election.
The good news is, we are just now reaching to the point in time when Newt and a few others (including a young freshman conservative named Boehner) assembled the Contract and rolled it out on the Capitol steps. In the fog of time, many people forget that the contract was not known until just 42 days ahead of the election. That’s about where we are now on the timeline, and now we have a more dynamic and fast-paced media environment, including the social media. There are also a lot more conservative websites and conservative talkers than there were in 1994.
In other words, it’s not too late -- even if it feels like it. The problem is Karl Rove and other strategists who rule the GOP message machine are -- how can I put this delicately – idiotic? As are the establishment candidates. They are such shallow thinkers and prisoners of stale and failed formulas. Original thought is simply nonexistent. And yet so convinced are they of their sorcery with their use of focus groups and polls to manipulate a few votes here and a few votes there -- that the potential tidal wave available to them continues to escape notice.
They are running little micro campaigns -- over things like teacher pay in N.C. and personal corruption and other non-issues in Iowa, Kansas, and Colorado. The idea of running all races against Harry Reid and Barack Obama -- strategies that worked in 1994 and 2010 -- just do not penetrate the skull of the GOP establishment hack.
This kind of micro campaigning is how Republicans lose. It’s how, with first and goal at the one, the GOP will probably end up with only a field goal this cycle. It’s how Bill Clinton still gets credit for Contract with America legislation, and how George W. Bush still gets blamed for policies authored by the likes of Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, and Ted Kennedy. The establishment never ever tells the big story and connects the dots.
Harry Reid impacts every one of us more than our own Senators do, regardless of where we are from. Ditto for Barack Obama. Election consequences are national. Shouldn’t election strategy be the same? It’s not too late to do this, but memo to the GOP… tick tick tick… the clock is running.