People often tell me that their first emotion on the night of November 7, 2006 was disappointment. Indeed, after spending many nights on the road last summer and fall, traveling around the country and seeing firsthand the enthusiasm and commitment of Republican volunteers nationwide, our loss in the House and Senate was a bitter pill to swallow. But my personal disappointment quickly gave way to resolve, and I knew that if Republicans were going to earn back the congressional majority in 2008 we would have to start the next morning.
Notice that I said “earn” back the majority. Our friends on the other side of the aisle often talked of "taking" back the House and Senate, as if it were somehow rightfully theirs by default. If there is one big lesson that stands out from our party’s time in the majority, it is this: a congressional majority is simply a means to an end. The value of a majority lies not in the chance to wield great power, but in the chance to use limited power to do great things on behalf of the American people.
Our Goal: Earn Back the Majority
Our job over the course of the next 16 months is to rebuild Americans’ confidence in Republicans’ ability to deliver a government that is limited, honest, accountable, and responsive to their needs. Starting last fall, we’ve worked to develop a strategy that will help us earn back the majority by reclaiming our position as the party of limited government and big ideas. Our strategy for success is rooted in three key principles.
One, we will be proactive, beginning with a broad and ongoing effort to communicate bold, innovative solutions rooted in our principles.
Two, we will define and contrast our solutions with their stale ideas, illustrating the very real differences between our parties and what they mean for the average American. We can’t be content to rely on Democrats’ failures. Remember, they didn’t win in November – we lost.
And three, we will hold Democrats accountable at every opportunity. Whether it is on the House floor, on the campaign trail, in the local newspaper or on the evening news, we will be aggressive and take the risks necessary to be successful.
The Strategy: Be Proactive
Republicans will be proactive on a number of fronts, particularly in terms of communicating new, innovative solutions to the American public.
Through their unrelenting in their opposition to our proposals, whether it was providing tax relief to middle-class families, providing affordable health care to small businesses and their workers, reforming runaway entitlement programs, expanding domestic energy production, or other staples of the Republican platform, Democrats were able to sell voters the impression that we’d stagnated – that we were defending the status quo rather than blazing new trails as we once had. Despite their lack of any real agenda, Democrats exploited the idea that we’d stalled – and we paid the price.
That’s what I mean when I say Democrats didn’t win in November, we lost. You can see that reflected in the polls that show after only a few months with Democrats in power, many voters are already having buyer’s remorse. Not only are more and more Americans uncomfortable with the direction Democrats are attempting to take the country, they understand they haven’t accomplished anything yet. This gives us a great opportunity to communicate bold, new, and innovative ideas.
President Ronald Reagan summed up the importance of communicating big ideas in his farewell address in 1989. He said:
“[I]n all of that time I won a nickname, ‘The Great Communicator.’ But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: it was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things….”
There is an appetite across the country for new ideas. If we are proactive and communicate – on a district-by-district basis – that we are the agents of positive change, we will succeed.
The Strategy: Define The Contrasts
Republicans will aggressively sell our solutions to today’s problems and will contrast them with Democrats’ tired love for bigger government and higher taxes.
Take health care as an example. Millions of Americans go without health coverage every year – we want to change that. To expand access to quality, affordable health care, Republicans want small business health plans and expanded tax-free Health Savings Accounts, and are working on other free-market proposals.
How would Democrats cover the uninsured? With more government – DMV-style health care for the 21st century – and higher taxes for everyone.
Republicans want to break America’s addiction to foreign oil. Democrats? They raised taxes on American energy producers this year, raising prices at the pump and making America more dependent on hostile foreign governments for energy. See a pattern here?
Republicans are committed to victory in the Global War on Terror. Democrats, of course, have voted repeatedly to tie the hands of our generals and loaded up a war funding bill with billions in pork. They even proposed shifting funding from critical intelligence operations to study climate change. Does that sound like a party that’s serious about national security?
Similarly, on the issues of welfare reform, balancing the budget without raising taxes, entitlement reform, and strengthening the economy, Americans have a natural inclination to agree with our positions. To succeed, we will do a better job of defining and contrasting our ideas with those of the Democrats.
The Strategy: Hold Democrats Accountable
Whether it is on the House floor or on the campaign trail, we will hold Democrats accountable. And we will do so with all of the tools at our disposal.
Democrats have quickly found out that governing isn’t easy once you move past poll-tested, sloganeering. For all the promises they made, not one of their "Six for ‘06" proposals has been enacted into law. And no bill of substance has been signed into law as of this writing.
While we no longer control the daily agenda, we’re holding Democrats accountable for their promises, for their ethical problems, and for their liberal agenda. So far, our efforts are winning bipartisan support and addressing problems the American families are concerned about.
For example, we’ve forced Democrats to take tough votes – for them – on whether to shower convicted criminals with taxpayer funded loans, or whether taxpayer-funded colleges and universities can discriminate against U.S. military recruiters.
We will also take every opportunity to hold Democrats accountable politically. We will make better use of new technologies to organize grassroots support and engage new voters, and we will seek out and build new coalitions – and strengthen existing ones – with groups that share our commitment to limited government and strong national security.
To succeed in 2008, we will keep the heat on them on all fronts.
Our Task: Seize The Opportunity
All around the country there is a healthy appetite for change. Republican candidates need to capitalize on that hunger, and show the American people that we are the party of change. This fight is about ideas – it is not just for the sake of fighting. By reclaiming our position as the party of limited government and big ideas, we can succeed in earning back the majority.
This op-ed by Republican Leader John Boehner appeared in the summer 2007 edition of the RNC’s magazine “Rising Tide.”