Charlie Klinge

We got Medicare Plan B and a bill for $75 billion a year with no offsetting budget reductions elsewhere. Karl Rove touted this legislation as part of the plan to win Florida in the 2004.

We got the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 for $152 billion—remember the $300 per person tax rebates.

There was Sarbanes-Oxley (more regulation), and the Help America Vote Act. There was the 2005 Energy Policy Act—tax incentives and loan guarantees for energy production.

Then, in 2007, the House and Senate flipped and Democrats made Nancy Pelosi the Speaker of House and Robert Byrd Majority Leader in the Senate.

The point is that the Republicans did not do any reform to speak of. Really, just the opposite. Upon his death, the Economist declared Senator Stevens “The Emperor of Earmarks.” The Republicans were spending money thinking that would buy votes. Then the recession started on Bush’s watch imposing another black mark.

The voters don’t remember the great things that the Republicans accomplished because there was not much, not enough, or the wrong things to remember. Bush tax cuts, No Child Left Behind, and a couple of wars is not a meaningful record of principled limited government reform.

What have the Republicans done that was meaningful reform to accomplish limited government since the 1994 Contract with America? Why wasn’t the rest of that Contract or some new reform Contract and much more not carried out in 2003? Or 2004, 2005, 2006?

The Republicans started taking that worst of all drugs—the arrogance of power, and they could not get anything done for fear of losing the next election.

As Governor Bobby Jindal said in 2010:

“Our party got away from its principles. You elected Republicans to champion limited government, fiscal discipline, and personal responsibility. Instead, Republicans went along with earmarks and big government spending in Washington. Republicans lost your trust - and rightly so. Tonight, on behalf of our leaders in Congress and my fellow Republican governors, I say: Our party is determined to regain your trust.”

Governor Jindal had it right. But, what happened to Republican Party contrition since? Where are the articles and speeches now about the Republican failures of 2003-2006 that must be recognized to be understood and fixed? That contrition has been largely or completely nonexistence.

In sum, the Republicans failed to take action on major limited government reforms when they had the golden opportunity in 2003-2006. The majority of the voters do not trust that the Republicans will do anything important now because they hardly did anything important then. Instead, the voters trust the Democrats to deliver the goods or to at least do something. The Republicans are still paying for the corruption that was the Party—the corruption of putting reelection above principle, power above reform. That corruption got the Republicans thrown out of Congress in 2006 and out of the White House in 2008, and that hangover plus incumbency cost them the Presidency this year. The Republicans will get another chance in 2016. The Republicans, really the leaders of the Republican Party, must show contrition—recognition of past failures, if there is to be hope for the Party’s future.

Charlie Klinge

Charlie Klinge is a property rights attorney in Bellevue, Washington, and former vice-chair of the King County Republican Party.