Between now and the November 2 election there are several dangers that stand between conservatives and the overwhelming victory that present polls predict.
The first threat flows from complacency, hubris, laziness, a sense that victory is already ours. The polling data tell us that Americans want to vote for Republicans more than Democrats, against those who voted for Obamacare and for those who oppose higher taxes. Of course, this assumes that “present trends continue.” If we work hard, harder and hardest, then today’s cheerful polling data can be the harbinger of victory when real votes by real people are counted on November 2.
The second threat is that of distraction by “shiny things.” Many issues pop up and politicians and talk show hosts are intrigued and tempted to spend precious minutes talking about new and exciting issues rather than focusing on the spending that threatens our future.
Too much government spending is killing jobs and businesses, clouding our economic future. We know that the issue of spending moves votes, brings out the Tea Party activists, and elected candidates in 2009 to the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey and in January 2010 to the Senate seat once held by Ted Kennedy.
Why trade a tried-and-true issue that Democrats cannot escape for new issues that may or not actually move votes—as opposed to flap tongues? And new issues give Democrats an opportunity to separate themselves from the unpopular Obama, Reid and Pelosi.
Earlier in the year there was a danger that Arizona’s immigration law would distract attention from federal spending. And many Democrats from other states could bravely insist that they, too, liked the Arizona law, that therefore they were different from Obama, and that therefore they were moderate or even conservative. It allowed them to throw up what Ross Perot called “Gorilla dust” to distract voters from their actual voting records on the actual issues they were responsible for.
The mosque in Manhattan presented the same danger. Harry Reid of Nevada has voted lockstep with Obama. But when Newt Gingrich announced that a mosque in Manhattan was a central issue for this election…voila…Harry Reid received a “get out of jail free” card where he could posture as a conservative battling Obama. Never mind that a Senator from Nevada cannot undo the First Amendment or stop anyone from building a church, synagogue, temple or mosque anywhere.
This is what happened in 1998 when then House Speaker Newt Gingrich announced that the key issue in the midterms was Monica Lewinsky. Republicans should have won 20 additional House seats in 1998–it was the off-year election in a Democratic president’s second term. Instead, by distracting voters with visions of interns and cigars, Republicans lost five seats.
When you are losing, you want distractions.
When you are winning, you do not want distractions.
We are winning at present. We should remain the “focus like a laser on spending” movement.
As soon as the dust begins to settle on the November 2 election, the movement must be prepared for two projects.
First, to focus on disciplining the House and Senate Republicans to enact the “Contract with America: 2010” that will be released in late September/early October. It is up to the movement to make sure the Contract does not become campaign rhetoric—forgotten after the election results.
In 1995, the Contract with America was the exoskeleton that held the Republicans together in the House and Senate for two years.
Things started falling apart after the 1996 election largely because there was no Contract with America in the 1996 election. House and Senate Republicans deferred to the Dole for President Campaign to create the national themes.
This must not happen again. The movement and Republican congressmen should create a contract with America for 2012 and invite would-be presidential contenders to sign on. No more “going with the flow” or whoever becomes the GOP’s nominee. He or she gets to be president.
The party and movement should set the agenda.
And lastly, the moment the November 2 election is settled, grown-up Republicans and conservatives should immediately focus on 2012 and 2014 to plan the path to a 60-vote majority in the Senate. A House majority is a good start. A Senate majority is nice. But only a House majority and 60-plus votes in the Senate ensure control of the agenda in Washington, D.C.
Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.