Source: The New York Times
By Frank Luntz
On election night 1994, as Republicans recaptured the House for the first time in 40 years, I stood in the audience and watched my client Newt Gingrich, who would soon become speaker of the House, declare the beginning of the â€œRepublican revolution.â€
I knew immediately that the smartest man I had ever worked for was making the worst rhetorical blunder of his career. Nobody voted Republican to start a revolution. They did so because they were fed up with a Democratic president overreaching on health care and a government seemingly incapable of doing even the smallest thing effectively. We all know what happened when Mr. Gingrich tried to turn his rhetoric into action.
Sound familiar? No one is quite saying â€œrevolutionâ€ this week, but Republicans across the country, in their glee over Tuesdayâ€™s elections, are coming dangerously close to making the same mistake.
True, there will now be more Americans under Republican representation than at any time in decades. And the re-elections of G.O.P. governors in blue states like Michigan and Wisconsin are certainly a validation of their policies. It was a tsunami; someone needs to get the Democrats a towel. But that anti-Democrat wave was not the same as a pro-Republican endorsement. In many races that went from blue to red, Republican success was hardly because of what the G.O.P. has achieved on Capitol Hill. In fact, if Americans could speak with one collective voice â€” all 310 million of them â€” this is what they said Tuesday night: â€œWashington doesnâ€™t listen, Washington doesnâ€™t lead and Washington doesnâ€™t deliver.â€ Purple states tossed out their Democratic senators for being too close to Washington and too far from the people who put them there.
The current narrative, that this election was a rejection of President Obama, misses the mark. So does the idea that it was a mandate for an extreme conservative agenda. According to a survey my firm fielded on election night for the political-advocacy organization Each American Dream, it was more important that a candidate â€œshake up and change the way Washington operates.â€
I didnâ€™t need a poll to tell me that. This year I traveled the country listening to voters, from Miami to Anchorage, 30 states and counting. And from the reddest rural towns to the bluest big cities, the sentiment is the same. People say Washington is broken and on the decline, that government no longer works for them â€” only for the rich and powerful.
They voted out those who promised to do more in favor of those who said they would do less, but do it better. Thatâ€™s why the Democratic candidates for governor who condemned their opponents for spending too little on education, transportation and programs for the poor and unemployed still lost. The results were less about the size of government than about making government efficient, effective and accountable. Our election night survey showed that 42 percent chose their Senate candidate because they hated the opponent more. One pre-election poll had over 70 percent willing to throw everyone out and start fresh.
Winning on Election Day is not the end. The objective canâ€™t be just to bide time for the next election; thatâ€™s a losing strategy. The mission has to be a restoration of confidence in the future. The question is: What can Republicans at all levels do to make this happen, and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past?
First, hold Washington accountable. From the cover-ups of veterans dying while being denied care to using the I.R.S. to target conservative groups, recent scandals highlight the chasm between hard-working taxpayers and Washington. But this also means holding your colleagues accountable. No turning a blind eye to broken promises. If youâ€™re truly different, act truly differently.
Second, make the peopleâ€™s priorities your priorities. In our survey, the top priorities were making the government more efficient and controlling spending. So tackle deficits and the national debt, and root out the waste and abuse of government programs. Reduce the crippling red tape and regulations that are strangling small businesses. As the House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, said, show that a Republican Congress has both the wisdom to listen and the courage to lead.
Third, stop blustering and fighting. Americans despair of the pointless posturing, empty promises and bad policies that result. Show that you are more concerned with people than politics. Donâ€™t be afraid to work with your opponents if it means achieving real results. Democrats and Republicans disagree on a lot, but there are also opportunities of real national importance, like national security and passing the trans-Atlantic trade deal.
Aside from a small activist constituency, Americans are not looking for another fight over same-sex marriage or abortion. This isnâ€™t to say that voters want their leaders to co-opt their convictions. People are simply tired of identity politics that pit men against women, black against white, wealthy against poor. More than ever, they want leadership that brings us together.
This isnâ€™t about pride of ownership regarding American progress; this is about progress, period. Americans donâ€™t care about Democratic solutions or Republican solutions. They just want common-sense solutions that make everyday life just a little bit easier. But they canâ€™t get their houses in order until Washington gets its own house in order.
Frank Luntz, a communications adviser and Republican pollster, is president of Luntz Global Partners, a consulting firm.