Dust off your old copies of “Back To The Future” because according to The Politico, that’s what Republican party strategists have in mind in how they’re going to approach President Barack Obama and his emerging agenda.
The bottom line: They will do a re-run of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s highly partisan resist, characterize and block strategy that re-energized Republicans and helped the GOP take over Congress in the early 90s after effectively check-mating then President Bill Clinton’s agenda.
The bottom line bottom line of this kind of strategy: This is essentially a party base mobilization strategy which seeks to create support by polarizing the country and peeling off independent voters who’ll conclude the Democrats can ‘t get anything done. The danger for the GOP: if truly becomes the party of stop and no, it will basically be kissing of the country center. The Politico reports:
Republicans are hatching a political comeback by dusting off a strategic playbook written nearly two decades ago.
Its themes: Unite against Democrats’ economic policy, block and counter health care reform and tar them with spending scandals.
Those represent the political trifecta that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich bet on in 1994 to produce a historic Republican takeover of Congress.
Now, some Republicans believe President Barack Obama’s one-two push on the economy and health care reform is setting the stage for a new round of significant gains, if not a total takeover.
“There are two models that Republicans are looking at,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.
“One is 1990, [President George H.W.] Bush gets together with the Democrats at Andrews Air Force Base, raises taxes and loses the next election,” he explained. “The other is 1993, Democrats have a series of proposals to spend and tax. Republicans vote no and regain the House and Senate.”
With passage of the $787 billion economic stimulus behind him, the new president is now turning to health care, expected to be a primary topic at Monday’s Fiscal Responsibility Summit at the White House.
Republican leaders, including House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio, plan to attend. But as the stimulus debate earlier this month showed, a dialogue today doesn’t rule out an onslaught of diatribes later on the House and Senate floors.
That recent history is likely to put the Obama team on guard, but the road ahead for Republicans is tricky, as well.
Will it work? As The Politico notes, it’s iffy. Here are some of their points as well as some of our own:
The Politico notes that this isn’t 1992. Obama won by a far bigger majority than Clinton. Republicans aren’t in ascendancy. And the context for health care reform — not to mention the business climate — is iffier. Additionally: Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton made huge mistakes in trying to get health care reform that are unlikely to be repeated by the Obama crowd. PLUS:
Obama is also scattering portions of his reform agenda into several legislative vehicles, which means some could prevail while others might falter.
The president already can claim one key victory: nearly $20 billion set aside in the stimulus bill to help doctors and hospitals convert paper medical records to electronic ones.
The transition is critical to achieving Obama’s goal of decreasing medical costs, since electronic records could reduce duplication of medical tests and other treatments.
The Obama team will also salt significant reforms into its first budget proposal, scheduled to be released on Thursday. …But by moving them into the budget bill, Obama robs Republicans of the chance to filibuster them. He just needs a simple majority in the Senate — something Clinton couldn’t count on.
One thing the Republicans are reportedly counting on: that the Democrats will overreach or stumble.
If anything, this is the most likely prospect.
But, aside from these factors mentioned in The Politico piece, there are other factors that could complicate this as well:
(1) THIS AIN’T 1992 IN TERMS OF THE NEWS MEDIA: The news cycles weren’t as short in 1992 and the new media wasn’t in full blossom. There is more potential than ever before for this to backfire on the Republicans, who will be seen by Americans struggling to keep their homes and pay bills — including health care bills — as a bunch of rich, ideologically-dominated politicos seeking to halt measures that might give them relief…measures being opposed by people who are receiving government health care. This kind of argument has been used before and flopped but it will resonate greater than before due to the new media and the synergistic relationship between old and new media which exists more often than not these days.
(2) Obama isn’t Clinton. Clinton was smart and experienced as a Governor and as President. But he was overwhelmed by how Washington works, a plan that was developed in often in secret and a Pollyanna type attitude on the power of talk radio to rally opposition to a policy. Obama will go into this with a bunch of “givens.”
(3) A charismatic GOPer has not yet emerged. Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor are no Newt Gingriches — and at times are hardly Mitch McConnells and Eric Cantors. Gingrich spilled out from the TV tube into living rooms. That was also the era of Bob Dole.
Could it work? YES. But if you add this reported strategy, and the GOP increasingly seeming as if it is doing the bidding of radio talk show hosts, there is no sense here that the GOP intends to widen its tent and get new members or supporters.
It’s just calling its conservative base to arms once more to do battle against another party which it will paint as a danger to American life as we know it. More of the 50+1 idea of politicking – and governing.
But is it inherently wrong? A New York Times piece looks at the idea of the Gingrich approach — and notes that it deep-sixed the long-standing idea of “loyal opposition”:
The concept of a loyal opposition — that the party out of power can oppose the government without trying to overthrow it — is, of course, as old as the United States itself. “We are all Republicans — we are all Federalists,” Thomas Jefferson declared in at his first inaugural, heralding the birth of the American multiparty system
Eventually, the concept of the “loyal opposition” came to mean that a president, especially a new one elected by comfortable majority, could expect cooperation from the other side, in deference to the will of the voters. But in the partisan politics of recent decades, another view developed, advanced by Congressional leaders like Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, that the minority party has the right, even obligation, to stick to its ideological principles.
Some longtime Washington power-brokers are uncomfortable with this more partisan-based notion of loyalty. John Warner, former Republican senator from Virginia, is one.
But, the Times notes, the reality is that moderates holding office have dwindled, as has the practice of ticket splitting — so the trend is towards harder ideological lines:
Republicans haven’t cornered the market for blocking presidential initiatives. Democrats were so successful at filibustering Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees that their Senate leader, Tom Daschle, was labeled “an obstructionist” and lost his seat in 2004.
Today it is the Republicans who find themselves accused of obstructionism. Mr. Gingrich, a veteran — and, some would say, the architect — of the hard-edged 90s, has emerged as a mentor to the current Republican House minority, in particular Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House minority whip whose efforts ensured that not a single House Republican voted for Mr. Obama’s stimulus bill.
According to the Times, Gingrich scoffs at the notion of the “loyal opposition” — a notion that has been honored by both parties for many years.
Don’t bet the house on it……
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.