At this time in 1994, voters across the United States were frustrated with a Democratic president who had over-reached on health care and whose minions in both houses of Congress were helping him broaden regulations and raise taxes – all under a cloud of corruption that was almost palpable.
Back then, the most optimistic conservatives were hopeful that maybe, if all the stars aligned, the GOP just might be able to pick up the 42 seats needed to take control of the House of Representatives for the first time in four decades.
Under the direction of the GOP’s hard-charging Minority Whip, Rep. Newt Gingrich, the party advanced a novel concept: a “contract” with the American people. In compelling, easy-to-understand language, the House Republican candidates pledged 8 specific reforms of the legislative process and promised to bring 10 separate pieces of legislation to the House floor in their first 100 days in office.
“If we break this contract, throw us out — we mean it,” said ads that ran in TV Guide and were separately distributed to 38.5 million Americans.
Fast forward 20 years, and the Republican strategy (apparently cast in stone) consists of only three issues: Obamacare, Obamacare, and Obamacare.
The party’s Congressional leadership and the pillars of the GOP’s Washington establishment – including the usual troupe of TV pollsters and pundits – are convinced that the Affordable Care Act is a one-way ticket to a larger U.S. House majority and a takeover of the U.S. Senate. Congressional Republicans and the chattering class of consultants are so convinced of Obamacare’s potential that they systematically refuse to consider other possible campaign issues: to discuss other things, you see, would just dilute the message and confuse the voting public.
The danger of a one-issue campaign is that it overwhelms other issues and messages that could make inroads among large numbers of voters nationwide.
Other than Fox News, for instance, Benghazi has virtually disappeared from national news accounts (in part because Speaker Boehner has refused to allow creation of a special House investigative committee).
The transparently weak Obama administration foreign policy from Crimea to Syria has not elicited a spirited debate – and won’t, so long as Republican leaders continue to sit on the sidelines.
As I see it – admittedly without any reference to polling data – the Republicans should aspire to a multi-pronged attack, not unlike what Gingrich organized in 1994.
There is certainly no shortage of material for a new “Contract With America”: House Republicans have already passed literally hundreds of separate measures that have been stalled in the Democratic Senate, everything from protecting taxpayers against overbearing IRS agents to new options allowing workers to take more time with their families.
Indeed, after six years of the Obama presidency, the biggest challenge facing Republicans in writing this new contract may be to winnow the issues down to a manageable few.
Surely, the new 2014 Republican contract should outline proposals that will return America’s health care system to one based on free enterprise, market forces and openness – but health care is not the only principle that should unite Republicans.
We must set forth the pledge of a foreign policy that truly puts America’s interests first, alongside our plan to maintain global equilibrium through reacquisition of American strength.
Economically, the new contract should pledge a tax system that is fair and politically neutral, with a flat tax to stimulate economic growth and opportunity; an energy policy that includes regulatory restraint, approval of the Keystone Pipeline and smarter investments in alternative energy development; and a restoration of our commitment to a truly color-blind society.
It is time to restore the constitutional limits on government, and to restore the separation of powers. The new contract should promise to rebalance personal privacy and national security more constitutionally, and to return the courts and the executive branch to their designated lanes.
As happened 20 years ago, the drafting of this new contract will provide direction to a party that often seems befuddled.
With its laser-like focus on Obamacare, today’s Republican Party often seems incapable of advancing more than one issue at a time. It underestimates its own constituency, and it refuses to look and act like a party that wants to assume national leadership.
Republicans need to advance and reiterate our broader principles, which are the first principles of this nation. The GOP should wear them proudly and remember that they illuminate the path to our future.
Herb London is the President of the London Center for Policy Research