by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Pundits and prognosticators have proclaimed 2014 as an election cycle that’s likely to turn out well for Republicans. Ramesh Ponnuru explains in a Bloomberg View column why the GOP and conservatives would do themselves a favor by considering a similar election cycle 16 years ago.
With elections looming in November, Republicans are counting on President Barack Obama’s unpopularity to deliver them control of the Senate. They’re not running on an agenda, refusing even in broad outline to say how they would reform the tax code or replace Obama’s health-care law.
Some conservatives are unhappy about that. …
… This strategy is essentially the same one the party followed in 1998. That year, Republicans broke a long historical pattern — in which the party that doesn’t hold the White House tends to make gains in the middle of a president’s second term — by actually losing seats. That was the year of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Conventional wisdom holds that Republicans ran on a platform of removing President Bill Clinton from office and lost because the public hated the idea.
That isn’t exactly what happened. …
… Republicans didn’t run on any agenda of their own in 1998, just as they’re not running on one today. Their campaign message was: If you don’t like the president, vote for us. It didn’t work. Democrats got voters to the polls to defend the president while the Republicans’ message didn’t resonate. Republicans had hoped to pick up 25 House seats that year. They ended up losing five.
Some Republicans argue that they’re better off not running on an agenda this year, too. They think it’s the height of political wisdom not to interfere with an opponent who is self-destructing. These people always raise the 2006 elections to illustrate their point. They say that a purely oppositional message won a congressional landslide for Democrats that year. In fact, the Democrats did run on an agenda, including money for stem-cell research, tax hikes on “Big Oil” and a higher minimum wage. Democrats were also more popular back then than Republicans are today.