It was said of the restored Bourbon monarchs of France after the French Revolution, "They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing." The same can be said of today's Republican congressional leadership. Many Republicans hoped that after losing their majority in the 2006 debacle, the congressional leadership would put together an agenda of reform that would emphasize core conservative principles to recapture its majority. Yet those hopes have been dashed as lately it has been more of the same, and voters have continued to punish Republicans with devastating defeats. It would appear that things will have to get worse before they get better.
In 2006, voters rejected the Republican brand - not conservative ideals. America remains a right-of-center nation. Indeed, the greatest Democratic successes in 2006 were when they ran conservative Democrats who at times seemed more conservative than their Republican opponents (examples include Sen. Bob Casey in Pennsylvania and Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina).
The same pattern has been seen this year. Yet the talk among the congressional Republicans has been on how to appear more moderate. It is as if the leaders want to adopt the "me-too Republican" approach that failed so dismally until the election of Ronald Reagan. Running away from the conservative philosophy will only ensure a long-term Republican minority, such as happened in the 40 years before the "Contract With America."
What must be done to avoid a total disaster in November? Begin emphasizing conservative issues and positions to the voters. This message was clearly sent in Utah, where incumbent Rep. Chris Cannon was defeated in the Republican primary by a challenger who stressed conservative issues. Yet the party leadership was blind to this until voters made their choice. Another example of the disconnect between Republican voters and the congressional leadership is in Louisiana's 4th Congressional District, where a strong, young conservative is leading in the polling and has raised the most funds because of his positive conservative message. Yet the congressional leadership has endorsed a me-too Republican trial lawyer.
What are the conservative principles that need to be emphasized? They are quite simple and resonate with most voters: strong economic policies that stress less government, less taxes, and the entrepreneurial spirit of the individual; a strong national defense; enforcement of immigration laws; and a willingness to fight environmentalists to allow drilling on American soil.
Nobody debates that the economy is in dire straits currently or that the Democratic congressional majority will try to paint the economic downturn as a Republican-caused problem. Republicans must not allow this to happen. They must present an economic plan that will lead to an economic renaissance, as Mr. Reagan did when he adopted Jack Kemp's supply-side economic policy. The result was one of the strongest periods of economic prosperity in America's history. Today's Republicans must present a similar policy designed for the challenges we face in today's global economy. Such a plan would again present Republicans as the party of ideas and capture the attention of voters across the nation.
A majority of Americans believe in a strong defense - not only to win the war on terror but against emerging dangers ranging from a resurgent Russia to Iran to Venezuela. One only has to look back at George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis to see that voters will reject candidates who advocate a policy of weakness and appeasement. Republicans must paint the difference between Democrats and Republicans on national defense in bright colors so that voters realize the clear difference. We must not allow Democrats to trot out a Jim Webb or Wesley Clark and claim they are the party of a strong defense. Rather, we must expose the Democratic Party on defense for what it is: a party that believes peace cannot be achieved through strength and that we must negotiate with our enemies without any preconditions.
In polling, illegal immigration is a major concern regardless of party affiliation. Whether you are a blue-collar Democrat or a red-state Republican, voters want tough laws against illegal immigration and no amnesty. Republicans must unite around an anti-illegal immigration position. Yet, at the same time, Republicans must state that we support and encourage legal immigration. Immigrants from every part of the world have made America the strong and prosperous nation it is today.
Strong and optimistic leadership that remains loyal to conservative principles for the challenges we face in the 21st century will again captivate America and result in a Republican majority. Yet if such leadership does not quickly assert itself, Republicans - and all Americans - may be in for a long, hard time until such leadership emerges.
David E. Johnson is a Republican strategist and pollster. His e-mail is email@example.com. Holly Robichaud is a veteran Republican fundraiser. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.