A Once in a Century Opportunity

Hundred year tides don't appear in cycles of a century.  They're just very rare, occurring when a powerful storm coincides with the regular high tides of the autumn equinox.  I submit we're in such a moment, politically, today.

Because Hillary Clinton is seeking to succeed a relatively unpopular two term incumbent in a slack economy, the deck is stacked against her.  That's the normal ebb and flow of politics, a typical tide.  But the political storm that threatens to break next year, in conjunction with this tide, is quite untypical.   It's practically perfect.  Josh Kraushaar of National Journal has outlined the shape of the race, and listed most of the Republican advantages.

It starts with the candidates.  Hillary will be the worst politician nominated by a major party since the 19th century.  She is mistrusted and disliked.  She has no natural political skills, and her age and baggage weigh her down.  Add a sluggish economy, a nation convinced it is on the wrong path, national and homeland security anxieties, uncontrolled illegal immigration, an NRA on the warpath, and the Democrats, the party of government, arguing for more of it at a time when the government is held in almost universal ill repute, and you've got the storm.   It will turn a spring flood into a tide the likes of which we haven't seen in a hundred years.

And let us never forget the moment when the tide began to turn.  The implementation of Obamacare in October of 2013 was when everything changed.  A President and his party were caught in a blatant, premeditated lie.  Despite their repeated promises, you couldn't keep your doctor, and you couldn't keep your health insurance, and it didn't save everybody money.  It was not just an unmitigated mess; it was a program and a policy sold to the American people by a president lying through his teeth.  Republicans will be sure not to allow the voters to forget these damning facts.

The impact of a tidal election can last for a generation or more.  The kinds of change that seemed impossible would be within reach.  Look back in history to see what might be achieved.

The most lopsided presidential election in our history occurred in 1920.  Republican Harding got almost twice as many votes as Democrat Cox, winning the popular vote 60% to 31%.  One of the first actions of the Republican Congress elected with Harding was the Emergency Immigration Act, signed into law in May of 1921.  It passed the House on a voice vote and the Senate by a vote of 90-2.  Immigration went from 800,00 in 1920 to 300,00 in 1921-22.  Three years later the Johnson-Reed Act further, and permanently, cut immigration.  This was the basic immigration law of this country until 1965.

The Trump phenomenon boils down to one issue:  immigration.  Republicans have been promising to fix the border since Simpson-Mazzoli of 1986.  But both Bush 1 and  Bush 2  didn't really believe in it.  It lacked compassion.  Voters are understandably skeptical that any one but Trump would actually do it.   To put the Trump genie back in the bottle, the Republican nominee, whoever it is, needs to convince Trump's people that he will replace the disastrous 1965 immigration act with one that is designed for their benefit.  The lesson of 1920 is that it can be done.

1912 was the beginning of the progressive era in our politics.  But Wilson went too far, too fast, and Harding and Coolidge were the result.  Taxes and spending were reduced, immigration restricted and the country returned to normal.  Then the inept and arrogant Hoover was elected, the Depression hit, was mismanaged, and Progressivism came back with a vengeance in the New Deal.

Today, as in 1920, the Progressives have overreached, and a political backlash is brewing.  If current trends continue we'll be comparing the 2016 outcome to 1920.  While the political counter-revolution of 1920 was short lived, next year could create a political environment where permanent structural reforms are possible.  In addition to immigration reform, a Balanced Budget Amendment, fundamental tax reform (even including the possible abolition of the IRS), and the dismantlement of the administrative state are all possible.

This tide is running strong.  It won't be enough to win next year.  The victory must be exploited to the fullest.  Get ready to rumble.

Fritz Pettyjohn Is a former Alaska State Legislator and a Co-founder of the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force.  He blogs at ReaganProject.com

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