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GOP needs distinction -- or face extinction

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted November 12, 2001

I was talking with Senator Larry Craig, (R-ID), the Chairman of the Senate GOP Conference, and thus an important Member of the Leadership. I pointed out that the bi-partisanship, which the public seems to love so much, is taking its toll on his party's quest to regain control of the US Senate.

The fact is that the country is basically a Democratic nation. By that I mean that, unless given a reason to change, the voters would rather vote for a Democrat for president and for the Congress as well. With a few exceptions, the only time that the voters choose the Republicans is when the Democrats are perceived to be too extreme or too corrupt.

Think about the 1998 congressional elections. Bill Clinton was in the sixth year of his presidency. In every election in the 20th Century, the party that controlled the White House in that sixth year has suffered severe losses in congressional races. Even the legendary FDR, whose popularity enabled his party to perform the unusual feat of picking up seats in the off-year election of 1934, saw his party suffer severe losses in the 1938 elections. In 1946, the sixth year of the second eight year cycle of Democratic presidents FDR and Truman, the shift was seismic and the GOP actually won control of both houses of Congress for the first election since 1928. Despite Clinton's having disgraced the nation and having had impeachment hanging over his head, he and the Democrats ended up winning seats and defying a virtually ironclad rule of American electoral history.

Bill ClintonAnd the 2000 elections: Clinton had embarrassed the nation. He was only the second President in the nation's history to be impeached. Al Gore was an annoying candidate. The economy had started to falter. The Republicans selected the best candidate possible to keep their coalition together. As the nominee, George W. Bush picked a good VP candidate and together he and Dick Cheney ran an excellent campaign. In the end the race was so close that the US Supreme Court ended up calling Bush the winner, even though Gore may have won the popular vote by a substantial margin.

In both the 1998 and 2000 elections, there were clear-cut differences between the candidates and the parties. Still, the GOP barely managed to hang on.

If the current emphasis on bi-partisanship continues, I told Senator Craig, the GOP is going to suffer grievously at the ballot box next year. If voters are given "permission" to vote for the Democrats, then the results will be a landslide for the Democrats.

Senator Craig says he understands and shares my concern. We shall see.

But there are issues that can draw distinctions between the two parties that will be meaningful for voters and work to the advantage of the Senate Republicans. If ever there is an issue which can separate the men from the boys, it is the energy issue. Even the dimmest bulb of a voter can understand that the more dependent we are on foreign sources of oil, the more vulnerable we are to being blackmailed. The more we can develop our own sources of energy the better off we are as a nation. Yet there has been no vote on the President's energy program. Why? Because the Senate Majority Leader knows that he does not have the votes to stop the President's program which includes drilling in Alaska where there is a huge supply of oil and natural gas. So the Majority Leader has just shut down the process. He has forbidden the relevant committee to even meet lest it vote out the Bush program.

The Republicans ought to be demanding a vote on the Bush program. If they can't get it, the energy dependence issue ought to be hung around the neck of Daschle and the Senate Democrats.

Then, there is the issue of federal spending. Many in the Senate and House want nothing more than just more federal spending, but there are also many who favor real stimulus ideas which can jump-start the economy.

And there is the issue of missile defense. The President has made it clear, even to President Putin of Russia, that he intends to pursue a missile defense program. Again, there are Democrats who are prepared to vote for the President's program. But once again the Senate Majority Leader won't allow a vote. The Republicans should make missile defense a front-and-center issue. Most Americans do not understand that they are not defended. When they find out they are outraged. No wonder the Senate leader doesn't want this issue scheduled for a debate.

The clearer the differences between the parties, the better the chance the GOP has to winning back control of the Senate. If this period of no differences between the parties continues much longer, the Democrats will win back the kind of margin they had in the 1960's and 1970's, namely two-thirds control. That will not be healthy for this Republic.

Paul Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.

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