Tip Was Wrong

Burn me for a heretic, but this year could be the best for Republicans since 1994. And Bill Clinton’s advice to Obama was right, but not for Obama.

The late Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, Jr., Speaker of the House from 1977-1987, is best remembered for his “all politics is local” axiom. That was proved wrong in 1994 when — six weeks before the mid-term elections – Newt Gingrich introduced the “Contract with America” and changed the election dynamic.

In the 1994 generic Congressional preference polls, the Democrats’ 8-10% lead vanished — down to 3.5% on Election Day – when the Contract for America nationalized the issues. Republicans scored the biggest Congressional victory either party had achieved in almost fifty years because they realized that some times politics are national, not local.

By every forecast, even internal Republican analyses, this year is supposed to be as bad for Congressional Republicans as 1994 was for their Democratic counterparts. The economy is shaky, Bush is more unpopular than death or taxes, the world hates us, Americans are fed up, and nothing can save the Republicans.

In June, when Nevada Sen. John Ensign, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee said that it would be a “good night” for Republicans if they only lost four Senate seats on November 4, doom and gloom became official Republican policy.

But what if all the Cassandras are wrong?

According to the Gallup polls, the generic Congressional preference polls supported the Republican disaster theory from the beginning of the year. In mid-February, the Democrats were ahead by 15 points. From mid-June through mid-August, the lead decreased only slightly, holding in double digits, 51%-40%. But suddenly, in mid-September, the Democratic lead has shrunk suddenly to three points, 48%-45%.

But even that data point doesn’t reveal what may be an enormous tidal shift: the poll also showed that in the generic Congressional polling, Republicans now lead by 5% among likely voters. Call me crazy, but if Republicans realize that Gingrich was right in 1994 and apply that lesson this year, they can prove the doomsayers wrong.

The engine driving the change in the polls is the usual attention shift in a presidential year. Before, only political activists and political junkies were paying a lot of attention. In the past month — thanks to the party conventions, the candidate forums and the intense media coverage — the election has gained the attention of the general election voter.

Two sources fueled the poll shift engine. First, examination of the Obama-Biden ticket is leaving a lot of Democrats and independents dissatisfied. Obama unintentionally gave voice to doubters’ fears when he said, in last week’s forum, that “And so part of my job, I think, as president, is to make government cool again.”

Voters see a candidate who — according to the non-partisan National Journal — is the most liberal of all US Senators, paired with another man who is just as devoted to liberal elitism. And they see the Republican ticket comprised of a war hero and one of the most solidly conservative pols you can find.

But that won’t be enough to turn this election into a rerun of 1994. Last week, Bill Clinton reportedly advised Barack Obama to campaign on issues, not only on his persona. Which is the best advice that the Republicans can take, because whatever gains are to be made by campaigning against the Illinois celebrity have already been achieved.

There are two other issues the Republicans can, if they choose to make the election national rather than local, use to propel themselves to significant gains: the Dems’ embargo of American oil and the craziness of the liberal media.

“Drill Nothing” Nancy is the perfect example of liberal elitism that Republicans have to campaign against. The Pelosicrats believe higher gasoline prices are good for us because it helps them “save the planet.” They don’t care, as Gingrich does, that the vast majority of Americans want to fuel their cars without having to take out a loan, don’t like flag burning and don’t like courts making gay marriage legal. These are national wedge issues just waiting to be seized by Republicans.

Just as it did in 1994, Republican recovery starts with Gingrich.

A few months ago, Gingrich energized the Republican base with his “Drill here, drill now, pay less” petition to Congress to end the bans on offshore drilling and development of other American energy sources. At last report, 1,476,899 Americans have signed it.

Over the August Congressional recess, House Republicans have made the “drill now” issue national. They have convinced Americans of a very simple fact: that the principal obstacle to reducing the price of gasoline is the Pelosi Embargo. Pelosi realizes this: she gave endangered Dems leave to vote against her new oil embargo bill.

As the crowd chanted at the Republican Convention, the clearest national issue is “Drill, baby, drill.” If Congressional Republicans make this their primary issue across the country — taking advantage of a certain Alaska governor who can campaign with them on it — they can not only stave off losses, but they can make significant gains, defeating many vulnerable Dems such as Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu.

Just imagine the impact of sending Sarah Palin into the heart of Hillary country — Pennsylvania and Ohio, where Obama is already in trouble — to campaign on the Dems’ embargo of American oil. And if the McCain campaign lets her team up with Sen. Joe Lieberman to do some of this, they might just recapture those Reagan Democrats. Those voters are still there: but they have to be given a reason to vote Republican. Sarah and Joe can be the reason, and it will resonate in those crucial states.

There’s one other issue the Republicans need to nationalize: the crazy liberal media.

For more than two years, I’ve been writing that the politically active media — CBS, NBC, ABC, New York Times and Washington Postneed to be targeted by Republicans in parody and biting humor. The Republicans have ignored that advice. And I reluctantly admit that may have benefited them, but only because the activist media, unopposed, have gone so crazy that they are imploding.

It’s not just Keith Olbermann’s helium-filled head that is imploding. As former Clinton strategist Mark Penn told CBS last week, the mainstream media has lost credibility with American voters and that their credibility gap is growing. (Penn even used the example of the outrageous media attacks on Palin as one reason for the credibility loss.)

Republicans can use this as another wedge to separate voters from the Obama-media partnership. All they have to do is poke fun at the media — naming names and media outlets in funny television commercials — for the next five weeks. (Who is McCain running against? Obama-Biden or Obama-NBC?) The voters will do the rest.


This year doesn’t have to be a disaster for Republicans. With the right effort, they can set the liberals back on their heels for the next decade. They can force the Democratic Party to remake itself in the image of the responsible moderates such as Scoop Jackson and Sam Nunn who used to form its core.

Government isn’t cool. And neither are the radical media liberals who pass off political ads as “news.” Drill, baby, drill.