There’s little argument over the wisdom of Spanish philosopher George Santayana’s observation that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But the less articulated inverse of this is also true: Those who remember the past are poised to repeat it. It’s particularly true in politics, and a glance at three conservative political landslides over the past generation is instructive.
Ronald Reagan ran for reelection in 1984 with a conservative vision of free-market economic growth and tough foreign policy to confront the Soviet Union. His opponent, Walter Mondale, ran a conventional liberal campaign, going so far as to actually promise to raise taxes if elected. Result? Reagan won 49 states.
In 1994, popular outrage at the overreach of the Clinton administration led to Republicans nationalizing the midterm election with the Contract With America, a clear counterpoint to the Big Government campaigns of many Democrats. Result? The GOP captured 54 seats in the House of Representatives and, for the first time in more than a century, defeated the sitting Speaker of the House in his race for reelection.
Sixteen years later, the nation was mired in the Great Recession; hundreds of billions of tax dollars were being spent on corporate bailouts, people were losing their homes, and Obamacare was a reality. These events gave rise to the Tea Party movement and demands for more fiscally responsible policies. Result? After the votes of November 2, 2010, were counted, Republicans picked up an astonishing 63 House seats.
These historic landslides were not the result of timidity. They were earned by principled conservatives who gave the nation a clear and unambiguous vision that encompassed personal freedom, economic freedom and a debt-free future; a vision that drew a stark contrast with the liberal status quo of the moment. Today, we are living in another of those moments.
The nation is demanding tough action on illegal immigration and opposes the executive amnesty promised by President Obama. Obamacare is more unpopular than ever, and the looming employer mandate promises to drive Obamacare’s approval ratings even lower. Our foreign policy is in disarray, workforce participation has fallen to historic lows, and working families are faced with stagnant wages. Americans are hungry for an alternative vision, and survey after survey in recent weeks confirms this.
Republicans are ideally positioned to provide this alternative vision; the question is whether they will. If public opinion polling is to be believed, the GOP is on the brink of capturing a majority in the Senate while expanding its numbers in the House. Not surprisingly, the conventional wisdom among the Republican consulting class is to lay low, keep quiet and let the GOP wave roll in next month. It’s a safe strategy but they can do so much better.
Reagan did not win 49 of 50 states by laying low. Republicans did not register historic congressional gains in 1994 and 2010 by keeping quiet. These landslides were won because conservatives proudly announced their ideas for a better, stronger America. They did not merely win by virtue of not losing; they earned a mandate by boldly offering an alternative vision.
Today, the nation is adamantly opposed to promises of amnesty for those who illegally entered the United States; Republicans should promise to fight amnesty and secure our borders. Americans are strapped with higher health insurance costs under Obamacare; the GOP should amplify its intention to repeal it and start over from scratch with a focus on free-market solutions. Struggling families are tired of waiting for the non-recovery recovery to deliver good jobs with higher wages; Republican candidates should enunciate proven, fiscally responsible approaches to spur economic growth and prosperity.
Opportunities of this scale are rare, and not to be squandered. There’s a time and place in politics for keeping one’s head down, but this is neither the time nor the place. America wants alternatives to the policies of the Obama Administration, and the time for those alternatives is now. Republicans have an opportunity to lay out such an agenda. If they do, they could win another historic victory. If not, they will lack a mandate to govern and have no one to blame but themselves.
Martin is co-founder of Tea Party Patriots.