Politics & Policy

The 20-Day Stretch

Can the GOP Win?

With about 20 days to go, is there any way Republicans can save themselves from a wipeout? Would you bet money on any it? We asked, they answered.

Gerard Alexander

The problem at this stage is that we don’t know how well campaign advertising really works or how good each side’s get-out-the-vote will be.

But I do know that if I could turn the clock back a few months, I’d trade those “technical” things for getting on the right side of the best issues and making sure that those issues are front and center in voters’ minds. It’s too late, though, for the Republicans to become more fiscally responsible, put more good judges up for votes, and deal decisively with illegal immigration. So the next best option is to use the remaining weeks and days to make this a choice between the parties and not a referendum on the GOP alone — to focus voters on the Democrats’ weaknesses on national security, judges, and the economy. The best things the GOP has going for it is that despite all its disappointments, the Democrats actually pull off being worse. That has to be conversation topic number 1, 2, and 3 every day left. I’d bet money on some candidates doing that, but none on the media covering it aggressively.

 – Gerard Alexander is a professor at the University of Virginia.

Cesar Conda

First, House Republicans should announce right now that they pledge to clean house and elect a new slate of leaders, filled with new fresh faces. They should enforce the Contract with America pledge to impose term limits on committee chairmen, and rollout a tough, new ethics and lobbying-reform package, including a complete ban on gifts and subsidized travel from corporate interests.

Second, as the Clinton campaign once put it: “It’s the economy, stupid.” The current economic boom — and the fact that GOP tax-cutting policies are responsible — is as Larry Kudlow often puts it “the greatest story never told.” Since the pro-growth tax cut was signed in May 2003, the economy has expanded by an average of 3.7 percent per year and added 6.6 million new jobs. A total of $5.7 trillion of new shareholder wealth has been created and total household net worth is up $14.4 trillion, or 37 percent, since the tax cut. The GOP should spend advertising dollars touting this record of accomplishment.

Finally, Republicans must flat out tell the American people that “Speaker Pelosi” would endanger our country, period. A Democrat-controlled Congress will throw the U.S. economy into a recession by raising taxes, and make American’s less safe from Islamic fascists and rouge nations by killing ballistic missile defense, gutting the terrorist surveillance program and repealing the Patriot Act.

If the GOP takes these steps, it won’t be a wipeout, but I still wouldn’t bet beyond a few discretionary dollars.

 – Cesar Conda is former chief domestic- and economic-policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Monica Crowley

This is Republican control? Out-of-control federal spending, wildly disparate positions on illegal immigration, a failure to aggressively take on the criticism of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, and the scandals from Bob Ney to Mark Foley. Sigh. 

If the Republicans are to have any hope of retaining control of the House and Senate, they must do a few things beyond simply pointing out how much worse the Democrats will be.  First, hit national security hard: use the president’s military commissions speech this week as a template to remind voters that the Republicans have kept and will keep voters safer; remind them that the Republicans are the grown-ups on national defense. Second, stop accommodating illegal immigration.  Break with the president if you have to.  This is the number one issue among the base; don’t be afraid to deal with it as a rule of law and national security issue. And finally, you’ve got the presidency and both houses of Congress. Use them.  Stop letting the Democrats control the dialogue.  Talk about conservative principles.  Voters want to know that you stand for something, even when they may disagree with you.  Rediscover your backbone, Republicans, and victory may be yours in November.

 Monica Crowley is an MSNBC and Westwood One Radio host.

Ed Gillespie

When Republicans talk about issues, we win. When the focus is on process or politics we lose. All summer, the national media’s focus on the midterm elections was on process — polling data, get-out-the-vote programs, cash-on-hand figures. Around Labor Day (and September 11), with the help of President Bush’s megaphone, we began to put the focus on issues — and specifically national security and preventing terrorism.

Just as Republicans were beginning to gain ground, the Mark Foley scandal broke, and we were back in process and politics, and the 24/7 cable shows were off substance (terrorist surveillance programs and interrogation tactics) and back on blathering punditry (“When did the House leadership first learn of Foley’s reprehensible instant messages versus his inappropriate e-mails?” “Will evangelical Christians stay home in the wake of the Foley Scandal?”).

To ensure that we hold the House and Senate, the GOP must have the discipline to get back to issue messaging. U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.), who would head the tax-writing committee if Democrats recapture the majority, says there’s not a single tax cut passed by President Bush he would extend. U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D., Calif.) said recently that Democrat leaders shouldn’t talk before the election about their plans for funding the Iraq War, but added “I wouldn’t spend another dime.”

Highlighting key policy differences like slashing the child tax credit in half and defunding our troops in combat would have a positive impact in an electorate that is not nearly as sour on Republicans as public polls suggest.

 – Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, is author of Winning Right.

Robert Moran

Absent some massive external shock (North Korea attacks South Korea, Osama bin Laden is captured, etc.) that creates a rally effect for the president and his party, I expect Nancy Pelosi to be the next Speaker of the House with a 5-10 seat majority and the Senate to be closely divided (possibly 50-50).

Can Republicans save themselves from a wipeout? At this point it is doubtful.

It is almost certainly also pointless, unless there is a significant leadership makeover.

The miscalculations that led to our electoral problems is a long and painful list: a colossally stupid approach to Social Security reform (bold move instead of narrow focus on “choice”), a politically misguided strategy on immigration counter to our base, unfortunate Hurricane Katrina gaffes, outrageous spending, and an unwillingness to fight over winning, populist issues like 2/3rds supermajority for tax increases.

Sure, Republicans can pull out all the oppo they have, focus on security, and raise doubts about Pelosi, but it most likely won’t be enough.

For conservatives this is the autumn of our discontent. In many ways we accommodated ourselves to the moderates and party elites (Medicare prescription drugs come immediately to mind), and while we got some successes (welfare reform, tax cuts, less regulation, etc.) the party slowly became everything (almost) we ran against in 1994 — self-absorbed, profligate, and corrupt. I echo the sentiments of many of my conservative Beltway friends when I write that we richly deserve the thrashing the voters are about to give us.

But, in many ways, this loss may be the fever that cures the ailment. Pelosi will become hated as quickly as you can say “out of touch liberal.” The Democrats, led by absurd committee chairman in the House will believe their own spin (that “the people” love them, instead of the truth, that they simply loathed us more) and run like lemmings to their own political doom. The backlash will be intense. This will in turn make it very difficult for the Democrats to elect a president in 2008. Which in turn should give conservatives more shots at moving the Supreme Court in the right direction.

 – Robert Moran is senior vice president of StrategyOne.

Dick Morris

They have to persuade their base that they have not betrayed them. The Republicans were in trouble three weeks ago. But now they are in catastrophic condition. The Foley scandal is the difference. According to an October 6-8 Gallup poll, the percentage of white frequent churchgoers who plan to vote Republican has dropped from 58 percent to 47 percent since September. By eight points, the country, incredibly, says that the Democrats would be better at “leading America in a moral direction.”

The Foley scandal and Hastert’s inaction on it have gotten the Republicans in trouble with their base, a constant of support in three previous successful elections. They need to persuade their base that on terrorism and moral issues that they are far more reliable than the Democrats.

The good news, if there is any, in the recent sharp drop in Republican fortunes is that it is largely curable because it is in the family.

Bet on the GOP?    – Dick Morris is the author of several books including Rewriting History.

Ralph Reed

Republicans can (and I believe will) retain their majorities in both houses of Congress in the 2006 elections by focusing on the three t’s: taxes, terrorism, and turnout. The Bush tax cuts are scheduled to end and a Democrat Congress will not renew them, meaning a massive tax increase on working families and small businesses. In the war on terror, Democrats advocate a policy of weakness and vacillation, while the Republicans have a forward strategy of fighting terrorists around the world so it is harder for them to attack the United States. On values, the GOP has confirmed new Supreme Court justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito and stood up for the institution of marriage. Finally, if Republican voters turn out as they did in 2002 and 2004, they will confound the pollsters yet again. Democrats have turned out in 36 out of 39 primaries in 2006 at a level lower than the average of the last 20 years. While primary turnout is not always predictive, it indicates that Democrats are not going to the polls in the numbers many pollsters are predicting. This is a challenging and competitive environment for Republicans, but I believe this game plan will give the GOP a surprising victory.     

 – Ralph E. Reed Jr. is president of Century Strategies .

Lisa Schiffren

By nature I am a pessimist, like all true conservatives. And I do recognize that the America we live in elected Bill Clinton twice. But I have a possibly irrational confidence that there will be no wipeout. A significant correction? Certainly. And that’s a good thing.

Our country is divided on politics and culture. But can Americans really believe that Nancy Pelosi should be shaping the nation’s policy on war; our safety; the economy; or nail polish regulation? John Conyers, aging Commie, running the Judiciary Committee? Charlie Rangel at Ways and Means? There are, we are all aware, real threats out there.

The key to success is to keep reminding us of both sides of this equation: the stakes, and who precisely comprises the other team. The GOP hope is that the reality-based community — including swing voters, will show up to vote, and will pull the lever “R” because the world is a dangerous place and, in general, Republicans get this.

But what about all the screw-ups and the not-as-well-planned-as-we-thought war?

As a parent I’ve learned that sometimes punishing a child who deserves it will cost me more than it will teach her. That’s a judgment call. Passionately exhort your constituents to exercise such judgment. Subtly convey that you understand the mistakes. The candidates who lose will, for the most part, be personally flawed, or really out of step with their (blue) constituencies.  There will be a GOP Senate, and, by a hair, House.

Would I put money on this? Yes! Sure. Why not? Not a tremendous amount, of course, but …..some. And if I lose it, that is the least of our losses.

 – Lisa Schiffren is a former speechwriter for Vice President Dan Quayle.

Peter Schweizer

This election is not the Democrats to win but the GOP’s to lose. And they’ve been doing a very good job of it. There has not been a groundswell of support for DNC ideas–it’s more just disgust with what the GOP has been doing. It’s had to reverse course with only a few weeks left. Conservatives are disillusioned because of the inability of Republicans on Capitol Hill to control spending. Moderates and swing voters are put off by the scandal-a-week news coming out of Washington. The tone by Republicans has been almost completely wrong. Living in northern Florida, a lot of conservatives I talk with see arrogance among the Republicans in Washington. The best option at this point is to go on the offensive. Let the American public know what a Nancy Pelosi-led Congress will look like and what it will mean for them, i.e. that she represents the San Francisco wing of the Democratic party.

 – Peter Schweizer is author of Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy.

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