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The Republican Revolution has expired
By Charles Bloomer
In 1994, the Republican party swept to power in an unprecedented revolution, taking control of both houses of congress, a majority of governorships and majorities in several state legislatures. Unfortunately, they peaked early and it has been downhill ever since. The results of last week's elections in Virginia and New Jersey show that the Republicans have truly lost their way.
The successes of 1994 can be attributed to their developing a clear, understandable, popular agenda. The Contract With America outlined the conservative values of the Republican party and defined the party's differences with the opposition. Voters were presented with a party that stood for smaller, less intrusive government, lower taxes, a balanced budget, and a commitment to clean up Washington politics. The alternative was more tax-and-spend, big government status quo.
Since 1994, though, the Republican party has slowly abandoned the principles inherent in the Contract With America and has become nearly as Democrat as the Democratic party. Faced with a president who polled well and a hostile, liberal press, the Republicans retreated, unable or unwilling to stand and fight. Republicans in congress folded during a government shutdown, failed to bring an impeached president to account for lying under oath and obstructing justice, allowed the president to abuse the recess appointment process, and failed to stop the uncontrolled growth of government. In addition, poor judgment in personal affairs lead to a near collapse of the party leadership.
In every election since 1994, the Republicans have shifted further and further to the left, abandoning their support base. In every election since 1994, the Republicans in congress have lost seats to the point that by 2000 they had lost control of the senate and their majority in the house had dwindled to just 6 seats. The Republican candidate for president managed to get barely enough Electoral College votes to win, despite losing the popular vote.
It should not be surprising then that Republican candidates in Virginia and New Jersey lost their bids to become governors. Timidity does not produce winners. Failing to wholeheartedly embrace conservative values alienates the Republican base. Trying to emulate the opposition with mushy concepts such as "inclusiveness" and "big tent", trying to reach out to segments of the voting public by embracing their values, trying not to offend anyone -- all lead to confusion. Voters do not vote for confusion.
Mark Earley never had an agenda or, if he did, he never articulated it. He waffled when he should have stood firm, especially on the car tax issue. He should have made it absolutely clear that he would continue the successful policies of the two previous Republican administrations. Instead, it appears that Earley did not want to potentially alienate or offend the wealthy, liberal-leaning districts of Northern Virginia that border on Washington, DC. As a result, he did not look credible to the liberals and he aggravated the conservative base. His campaign strategy looks even more foolish when one considers that his Democratic opponent ran on a conservative agenda.
Bret Schundler, in New Jersey, ran as a conservative but the weak-kneed Republican Party failed to support him. The party was miffed when Schundler won the primary over their favored "moderate". As a result, the party played games with Schundler, supporting him only at the last minute. The party encouraged Schundler to "reach out" to Democratic strongholds, even though the chances that any of those voters would vote for him were slim. In New Jersey, as in Virginia, the support base was alienated and those groups invited into the "big tent" continued to vote for the Democrat.
The Republican party needs to realize that its attraction is in its core conservative values. American voters are, as Ronald Reagan realized, basically conservative. Those voters respond well to the conservative message when it is clearly expressed and firmly supported. Rather than water down the message to appeal to voters outside the core support group, the party must explain why conservatism will better serve their interests, explain how Republican values will make their lives more successful.
If the Republicans are to be successful in 2002, they will need to return to their conservative ideals. They can not afford to be a lighter version of the Democrats. Given a choice between voting for a Democrat with a Democrat agenda and voting for a Republican with a Democrat agenda, the voters will choose the Democrat. The Contract With America was successful because it was clear, it was conservative, and it made good sense.
If last week's elections do not help the Republicans see the light, they are destined to be in the minority once again. The Republican Revolution will have, indeed, expired.
Charles Bloomer is a Senior Writer for Enter Stage Right. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2001 Charles Bloomer
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