After 1980, Ronald Reagan got Congress to pass major tax cuts and some spending cuts, continued the deregulation begun in the Ford and Carter years and pursued a defense buildup that produced a peaceful victory in the Cold War.
And after 1994, congressional Republicans froze spending and produced balanced budgets, passed market-oriented health measures and passed education accountability legislation. Things got patchy toward the end of the 12 years of Republican majorities, but there's a lot to say for their record as a whole.
There are some obvious targets for Republicans if they win big this year. Democrats have jacked up domestic spending sharply; some reversal should be possible. The many glitches in Obamacare, some apparent now and others as yet undiscovered, could form a basis for derailment if not repeal.
Giveaways to labor unions, like the $26 billion package for the teacher unions that the House is to be summoned back from its recess to pass, presumably will be off the table.
Larger issues need to be addressed. We're overdue for a simplifying tax reform. And there is the looming crisis in entitlements -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
There is an assumption in the political world that spending cuts will be unpopular: Americans, it is said, are ideologically conservative but operationally liberal.
But there is some evidence that voters will back governors who cut spending, such as Mitch Daniels, re-elected while Barack Obama was carrying Indiana in 2008, and Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie, elected in Virginia and New Jersey in 2009 and now enjoying good job ratings.
One reason is that as candidates, they let voters know what they would do. There are risks in taking stands. But there are also risks in looking as clueless as Robert Redford.