In fact, when asked the question, “Do you admire political leaders who make compromise or stick to their principles?” fully 69 percent of Republican voters want a candidate who sticks to his or her principles and doesn’t compromise.
Compromise, of course, is a necessary part of our government. In a system that is rigged with so many checks and balances, compromise is necessary for anything to get done.
And that is the real conundrum for the political class today.
How can you achieve honorable compromise without getting your butt kicked by your own supporters?
The Republicans today are unveiling a newer version of 1994’s famed “Contract With America.” Sixteen years ago, the voters were similarly disillusioned with the political class. Bill Clinton mistook his 43 percent victory as a mandate, and veered sharply left on issues that proved to be toxic to centrist Democrats (gays in the military, gun control and tax increases). Congress was beset by scandals, including a hangover from the House bank imbroglio, and the approval ratings for the institution sank to all-time lows.
Back in 1994, the Republican base was in no mood for compromise. They didn’t trust Republicans (because of George H.W. Bush’s broken “no new taxes” pledge), and they hated Clinton so much that they called for a revolution.
Republican strategists saw that the best way to convince voters that they could be trusted with power was to offer them a signed “Contract,” a document that put into writing exactly what they would do in the first hundred days of taking over the majority. They then ran an ad in TV Guide to send a message that this time they were serious.
The class of 1994 promised not to compromise their principles, but eventually they had to compromise their principles to keep the government open. Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich are still getting grief from hardcore conservatives for caving in to Clinton and passing a continuing resolution to reopen the government, but those hard rocks are crazy. They had no choice but to make good on their constitutional duty to provide for the general welfare and defense of the nation.
Today’s pledge isn’t as dramatic as 1994, but then again Republicans are probably better off not making too many grand promises. The voters are angrier at the political class than they ever have been, and perhaps the best strategy for the GOP is to under-promise and over-deliver.
Compromise is a dirty word to most of the Republican faithful. All too often, when they see a political compromise, they are the ones who get stuck paying the bill.
But at the end of the day, compromise of some sort is going to have to happen, if for no other reason than to keep the government open.
Republicans are pledging to the country today that they are going to stick to their principles and fight to cut spending, fight to cut taxes and fight to repeal the president’s healthcare bill. Those are good things to fight for. But it isn’t going to be easy, with or without compromise.