It was said of the restored Bourbon monarchs after the French Revolution, They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. The same can be said of todays Republican Congressional leadership.
Many Republicans hoped that after losing its majority in 2006, the leadership would put together an agenda of reform that would emphasize core conservative principles to recapture the majority. Yet those hopes have been dashed as lately it has been more of the same and voters have continued to punish Republicans with devastating defeats. It would appear that things will have to get worse before they get better.
In 2006, voters rejected the GOP brand, not conservative ideals. America remains a right-of-center nation. Indeed the greatest Democratic successes in 2006 were when the party ran conservative Democrats who at times seemed more conservative than their Republican opponents. The same pattern has been seen this year. Yet the talk among the Republicans has been on how to appear more moderate. It is as if the leadership wants to adopt the me too Republican approach that failed so dismally until the election of Ronald Reagan. Running away from the conservative philosophy will only ensure a permanent minority, such as happened in the 40 years before the Contract with America.
To avoid a total disaster in November, Republicans must emphasize conservative issues and positions. This message was clearly sent in Utah where incumbent Chris Cannon was defeated in the Republican primary by a challenger who stressed conservative issues. Yet the leadership was blind to this until voters made their choice. Another example of the disconnect between Republican voters and the leadership is in Louisianas 4th district, where a strong young conservative has emerged, is leading in the polling and has raised the most funds because of the positive conservative message he is laying out. Yet the leadership has endorsed a me too Republican trial lawyer. The message is clear to anyone who listens: Conservative principles will win elections if they are emphasized.
What are the principles that need to be emphasized? Strong economic policies that stress less government, less taxes and the entrepreneurial spirit; a strong national defense; enforcement of immigration laws; and a willingness to fight environmentalists to allow drilling on American soil.
Nobody debates that the Democratic majority will try to paint the economic downturn as a Republican-caused problem. Republicans must not allow this to happen. They must present a plan that will lead to an economic renaissance as Reagan did when he adopted Jack Kemps supply-side economic policy. The result was one of the strongest periods of economic prosperity in Americas history. Todays Republicans must present a similar policy designed for the challenges we face in a global economy. Such a plan would again present Republicans as the party of ideas and capture the attention of voters across the nation.
A majority of Americans believe in a strong defense not only to win the war on terror but against emerging dangers ranging from a resurgent Russia to Iran to Venezuela. One only has to look back at George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis to see that voters will reject candidates who advocate a policy of weakness and appeasement. Despite some good Hollywood imagery, the Democrats are still the party of defeatism and weakness. The GOP must paint the difference between Democrats and Republicans on national defense in bright colors so that voters realize the clear difference. We must not allow Democrats to trot out a Jim Webb or Wesley Clark and claim they are the party of a strong defense. Rather, we must expose the Democratic Party on defense for what it is a party that believes peace through strength can never be achieved and that we must negotiate with our enemies without any preconditions.
In polling, illegal immigration is a major concern regardless of party affiliation. Whether blue-collar Democrats or red-state Republicans, voters want tough laws against illegal immigration and no amnesty. Republicans must unite an anti-illegal-immigration position. Yet, at the same time, Republicans must state that we support and encourage legal immigration. Immigrants have made America the strong and prosperous nation it is today.
Strong and optimistic leadership that remains loyal to conservative principles for the challenges we face in the 21st century will again capture Americas heart and mind, and result in a Republican majority. Yet if such leadership does not quickly assert itself, Republicans and Americans may be in for a long and hard time until such leadership emerges.
David Johnson is a Republican strategist and pollster and the CEO of Strategic Vision. Holly Robichaud is a Republican fundraiser and president of Tuesday Associates.