The combination of certain factors have created a near "perfect storm" to create a GOP majority in the House of Representatives this November: Democratic overreach, the Tea Party movement, the failing economy and a strong populist anti-incumbent fever.
Now it seems that the GOP plans to "unveil their new 'Contract with America'" which is modeled to some degree after the quickly forgotten document which helped bring Republicans to majority status in 1994.
To be sure, some suggested elements of the "America Speaking Out" program to be released Thursday seem quite likely to inspire Tea Party activitists while winning a sizable chunk of the independent vote. The Hill reports:
GOP leaders have already hinted at some of the ideas that could be included. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), for instance, has called for a two-year freeze in tax rates and a reduction in spending to 2008 levels. President Obama and Democratic leaders want to extend most tax cuts, but would raise taxes on families with incomes above $250,000 annually and individuals who earn more than $200,000 a year. Republicans have also pressed for repeal of the healthcare reform law, and for replacing it with new reforms. Some GOP figures have also called for repealing Wall Street reform.
Politico adds to the mix:
If a member questioned whether the House had constitutional authority to pass a bill, that challenge would receive debate and a vote.
The second major initiative would encourage — though not require — members of Congress to read bills before they vote. According to a senior House GOP source, Republicans plan to push for a new rule that would require the House to publish the text of a bill online at least three days before the House votes on it, also giving the public an opportunity to review legislation.
Now here comes the part about how the GOP plans to blow it. "Social conservatives have said they're confident their views will be well-represented in the document," reads today's article from The Hill.
“There will be some in there, yes. I haven’t seen the language but have been told that there will be some in there, the social issues,” said Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.) in The Hill article linked immediately above. Here's more:
Leading anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List was among a collection of traditional family organizations lobbying GOP leaders to include social issues such as abortion, the Defense of Marriage Act and religious liberty in the final product.
Last week, that collection of organizations delivered 20,000 letters to GOP leaders from their activist community demanding that social issues make it into the new commitment to America.
“From the beginning our goal was to help remind the leadership that any document ought to include the full legs of the stool. The three issue sets that really form the base of the Republican Party. To not include a third of that would be very difficult for a party at a time with important goals,” Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser explained to The Hill.
GOP leaders told advocacy and interest group leaders last week that the yet-to-be-revealed governing agenda was not a party platform, “it’s an action item list,” according to a meeting participant.
“There is a difference between a platform and a governing document – abosolutely (sic). However, issues come up – a governing document for the Congress ought to reflect, to a large extent, what the platform is because right out of the box, there are going to be issues that present themselves,” Dannenfelser said.
The third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), told an auditorium of Values Voter Summit participants Friday that they should demand no less than that GOP leaders include social issues in the dialogue moving forward.
“Men and women, we must demand, here and now, that the leaders of the Republican Party stand for life, traditional marriage and religious liberty without apology,” the House GOP Conference chairman told the hundreds of socially conservative voters in attendance. Pence went on to win the straw poll Saturday.
And his words gave Dannenfelser, at least, “certification that the whole base is included in the document.”
What the social conservatives don't seem to realize (or even care about) is that this "whole base" also includes libertarians and fiscal conservatives not primarily focused on social issues. It's worth noting that ignoring fiscal conservatives led to serious GOP electoral setbacks and helped parent the Tea Party movement.
Even in 1994, the Contract With America barely touched upon social issues. With today's Tea Party movement driving the vote this year, why not stick with the message that's already working: "constitutionally limited government, free markets and fiscal responsibility."
Many Tea Party activists are libertarian. Others are socially conservative. However, social issues aren't motivating the movement , or voters, right now. The Wall Street Journal reports the following:
Affinity only goes so far, however. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted in June found that just 2% of those identified as tea partiers put social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage at the top of their priority lists for federal action. By contrast, 29% chose job creation and economic growth at the top, and 25% picked the deficit and government spending.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said what matters in politics is the "vote-moving" issue, and tea partiers vote for smaller government, not school prayer. He recalls the political climate during President Bill Clinton's White House intern sex scandal in the late-1990s. Back then, Mr. Norquist had a hard time getting himself on television to talk about tax-and-spending cuts.
Now there has been an about-face in the body politic. "I hear it from social-conservative leaders who say, 'Where are my issues?' " Mr. Norquist said. "I say, 'Your issues are in the backpack of the guys about to win [on] spending."' Tea partiers may also be anti-abortion and pro-gun rights, but if those were the issues that moved them, they would have gotten involved years ago, Mr. Norquist said.
Eight years of pandering to social conservatives left a very bitter taste in the mouths of fiscal conservatives, libertarians and independent voters - the very same base from which the Tea Party movement is comprised. Internet gambling bans, the unconstitutional internvention in the Terri Shiavo case, compassionate conservatism, No Child Left Behind and faith-based initiatives underscore the right's disdain for overreaching social policy. In short, social conservatives were successful in astroturfing the GOP and they seem to be at it again.
Emboldened by Christine O'Donnell's primary win over Mike Castle in Delaware, some social conservatives are suggesting that their values should be pushed to the forefront of the Republican agenda. O'Donnell pushed a fiscally conservative message against the Republican with the worst 2009 spending record in Congress, according to the Club for Growth. It's far more likely that voters were responding to these issues than the masturbation and witchraft stories dominating the media of late.
That O'Donnell won doesn't speak to her capabilities as much as serve as an indictment of Republican politics-as-usual mindset still present in the GOP establishment. That O'Donnell won serves as an indictment of her primary opponent.
The Washington Independent describes the mindset of those trying to push social conservatism in this year's elections:
“Don’t let them put you in the back of the bus,” former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R) said to a full ballroom at the Values Voters Summit — organized by the Family Research Council — in Washington Friday.
He expounded on that idea to the crowd of about 2,000 Christian conservatives, saying they shouldn’t let “people come out and tell us that we have to put the values issues in the back of the bus, we have to have a truce on the values issues because the economic issues are paramount.”
I'm not sure if they get it, but people like Santorum are a key reason why Obama and the Democrats are in power today. And they clearly aren't the leading voice of the Tea Party movement. To allow them their issues at this point in time is clearly a recipe for disaster. Now they wish to push them so far as to allow them to be a component of the 2010 version of the Contract With America.
The Democrats have flubbed things up so badly that Republicans could probably win back the House pushing incredibly extreme portions of the socially conservative agenda like banning beer and burning (actually burying) books. However, the actions they take this year will continue to decimate Republican branding for years to come.
If the social conservatives want to craft a socially conservative cohesive campaign theme, let them band together and create one which doesn't represent the entire GOP.
According to The Hill, former NRCC Chairman Tom Cole and Cheif Deputy Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy are working on the inclusion of socially conservative values into the "America Speaking Out" program.
It's time for the socially conservative message to take the back seat on Santorum's bus. It's time for former Governor Mike Huckabee to cease his attack on libertarians and fiscal conservatives. It's time for Senator Lindsey Graham to quit trying to boot small-government types from the party. It's time for Gary Bauer to just shut the hell up.
If the GOP is serious about working with Tea Party members and adding libertarians and socially tolerant independents back onto their voter rolls the new GOP program will be devoid of social issues. If not, expect the drafters of this new document to become as unpopular with Republican voters as John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are today.