When it comes to the lessons of the 2006 elections, it’s very important to set the record straight. I traveled throughout the country this election year. I met with Americans in all the key states. And what I now understand is this: Republicans lost, but conservatism didn’t.
Many of the Democrats who won this year ran as non-liberals — in some cases, as outright conservatives. A number of them, including some incumbents, explicitly disavowed liberal Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and San Francisco values. Many repudiated Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s smear of American troops in Iraq. Remember, he was effectively driven off the campaign trail for the last 10 days by his own party.
The result was that, by Election Day, Democrats were seen as better at controlling government spending and at reducing taxes.
In Two Short Years, Republicans Lost the Advantage of Reform
Republicans, in two short years, gave up the advantages on taxes, balancing the budget and controlling spending that they had spent three generations earning.
On Katrina, controlling the border and Iraq, Republicans gave up the advantage as the party of management that could get things done — an advantage they had held since the 1950s.
And here’s the key: The elite media, liberal Democrats and establishment Republicans will do everything they can to portray this election as a repudiation of conservatism. Their game plan is to panic Republicans into selling out their grassroots base and adopting a series of really bad ideas which will — in their words — “salvage” the Bush Administration.
In fact, such a strategy would be an absolute disaster for the Republican Party, guaranteeing a division within the Republican ranks by sparking a revolt by the conservatives.
Reagan at CPAC: ‘No Pale Pastels’
The last time Republicans had an electoral disaster (and make no mistake, that is what 2006 was — in the Senate, the House, the governorships and state legislatures), California Gov. Ronald Reagan had some straightforward advice for the Republican Party. In 1975, he came to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and said:
“Our people look for a cause to believe in. Is it a third party we need, or is it a new and revitalized second party, raising a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors, which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people?”
Reagan at the 1976 GOP Convention: ‘Bold, Unmistakable Colors’
Again and again, Reagan would come back to this theme of bold clarity. In his impromptu speech at the 1976 Republican National Convention, Gov. Reagan again said:
“There are cynics who say that a party platform is something that no one bothers to read and it doesn’t very often amount to much.
“Whether it is different this time than it has ever been before, I believe the Republican Party has a platform that is a banner of bold, unmistakable colors, with no pastel shades.
“We have just heard a call to arms based on that platform, and a call to us to really be successful in communicating and reveal to the American people the difference between this platform and the platform of the opposing party, which is nothing but a revamp and a reissue and a running of a late, late show of the thing that we have been hearing from them for the last 40 years.”
The Problem Has Not Been With Conservatism or Our Voters
For the next four years, Gov. Reagan would continue to be bold, clear and decisive. In 1980, he won a landslide election for the presidency and brought with him a Republican Senate and a 33-seat increase in House Republican numbers.
Today, some Republican leaders will advocate that we steer a different course. They will insist that we find a way to be appealing to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. They will be wrong.
We should appeal to the Blue Dog Democrats who claim to be conservative. We should appeal to their voters and their supporters back home. Even more, we should appeal to the majority of the American people by returning the Republican Party, once again, to the party of reform, ideas, solutions and common-sense conservatism.
We should rebuild the grassroots conservative movement. From the Reagan Revolution of 1980 through the Contract with America in 1994, it was this movement from outside Washington that carried us to the first center-right majority governing coalition in more than 60 years.
The problem has not been with conservatism or with our voters.
The problem has been with Republican leaders who forgot who elected them and what values their supporters expected to see implemented in Washington.
Over the next few weeks, I will report to you directly and clearly about the proposals that are coming forth and the strategies that are being recommended. I will be your eyes and your ears in this time of profound challenge and opportunity for our movement and, as always, I will not be afraid to speak out. In the meantime, I hope you will let your congressman and your senators know where you stand on these vital concerns.
This was not a realigning election as 1994 was. Voters did not vote “for” the Democrats but “against” Republicans. Now, it will be up to us to see that the results of the 2006 election serve as a temporary but necessary corrective interruption in our goal of getting to a conservative governing majority. Take heart, while there is much to be done, I believe if we are focused, disciplined and we work together, we will Win the Future for America.
P.S. Just yesterday it was reported that incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is supporting Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) for majority leader. This is a sign that Pelosi, despite all her talk of moving to the center and reaching out to conservatives, will govern from the left. It is a direct assault on the moderate wing of the Democratic Party and a deliberate break with the second-ranking Democrat in the House, Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.). The next test for whether Pelosi will govern from the left or the center will be if she appoints Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), the impeached former federal judge, to chair the Intelligence Committee. No national security supporter will be comfortable with Hastings’ having oversight of the nation’s secrets, but the pressure on Pelosi to appease the Black Caucus is immense. Stay tuned.