By Greg Smith
Attention Congressional Republicans: You only have 240 shopping days until the next election. Get me something nice!
If campaigns were like Christmas presents, Congressional GOP efforts in 1998 would have been like a second-hand toaster or a $10 gift certificate to the grocery store. The party had caught President Clinton in his web of lies and didn’t bother to do much else. It was a classic example of playing it safe. ‘Hey, why trot out new ideas that may flop when we showed President Clinton is sleazy? What more do voters want?’
But 1994, oooh, that was like a diamond-encrusted Lamborghini with a walk-in humidor and a lifetime supply of cola and Pop Rocks. Even a diabetic non-smoker without a driver’s license couldn’t help but love it. The GOP needs to pay attention to the lessons of these two elections if they want real success in November.
In 1994 Republicans won a historic victory. They were the party out of power running against Hillary Clinton’s plan for health care and a national ban on ‘assault’ weapons. The U.S. had suffered an embarrassing and tragic defeat in Somalia, unemployment had come down but was still hovering near 7%. Blue Dog Democrats and independents were disaffected. Why does this sound so familiar?
Republicans put together the Contract with America, which contained specific ideas and promises to at least put those ideas to a vote. Then as now, Republicans were tarred with the epithets of liberalism: women hating, flat earth believing, gun toting, homeless hating war mongers who want the poor to starve and no one to have health care. But Republicans believed in their message, presented it with confidence and won a historic victory. Not one Republican running for re-election in 1994 was defeated while 34 Democratic House incumbents – including the sitting Democratic Speaker of the House Tom Foley – lost. Republicans won a total of 54 House seats and eight in the Senate. The drubbing was so bad President Clinton had to publicly explain why he was even relevant and veered right to prep for his 1996 re-election run.
Republican strategy in 1998 could not have been more different in there basically was none. The GOP had become fat and happy and saw a pro-active campaign strategy as a needless risk because Clinton had been caught, literally, with his pants down in the Oval Office. Midterm elections are historically a win for the party that doesn’t control the presidency, but in 1998 Republicans lost five seats in the House and gained nothing in the Senate. It was the first time in 68 years a sitting President’s party had a net gain in a midterm election. The ramifications for Republican hesitance in 2014 should be clear.
So far the upcoming election has a political landscape like 1994. Unfortunately, the Republican plan to traverse that landscape looks more like 1998. There is still time, but the various GOP factions can’t even sit down together, never mind hammer out a platform. If Republicans wait until state primaries are decided to determine a platform it will be too late.
This is a warning to the GOP: If it simply runs against the Affordable Care Act Republicans will not win the Senate and will probably pick up only a dozen seats in the House. The majority of voters may not approve of Obamacare, but they understand there is a serious problem with health care in this country. And if Republicans are incapable of coming up with and pushing a viable alternative – an easy task — what does that say about their ability to lead, not to mention their political beliefs? Public approval of Congressional Republicans isn’t exactly stratospheric, so just assuming the unpopularity of President Obama’s policies will win the Senate for the GOP is a recipe for wasting a once-in-a-generation opportunity. ©
Greg Smith is a freelance writer and political consultant who lives in Bantam, CT. His blog is found at www.betterfatthanfascist.com.