McCarthy is determined to change that in 2022. It’s a good year for Republicans: With a Democratic president facing midterm elections, high inflation is hurting voters economically, and Democrats hold a whispering majority in the House. it would only take a few flip seats to flip. It’s no surprise that in recent months McCarthy has turned to former Speaker Newt Gingrich, the architect of the Republican midterm victory in 1994, to help push his party across the finish line and into the majority.
“America’s Commitment” is the result of their collaboration, released this week. It is a document that outlines the priorities that House Republicans would achieve if they were to win the majority. Modeled after the “American Contract” that Gingrich used to nationalize the 1994 midterms, the “American Pledge” is an entirely different kind of document that shows how much the party has changed over the past quarter century.
Instead of joining a party willingly to appeal to independents who benefit from the GOP’s anti-abortion, trans, and pro-gun policies, or to appease voters, the 2022 Republican Party has made it clear that these issues are fundamental to their political identity. — as is his implacable opposition to working with Democrats.
As Gingrich became a partisan and polarizing figure as a speaker, most Americans who remember “The American Contract” remember it as one of the innovative political weapons in his arsenal. The contract, the story goes, nationalized congressional elections by providing a single platform for hundreds of local elections that helped elect the most conservative Congress in modern political history.
But Gingrich specifically designed it to be “The Contract with America.” no– polarization Most of the elements of the contract revolved around familiar areas of reform: term limits for members of the House, an audit of Congressional finances, public access to all congressional hearings. It also included elements such as tort reform, which placed new limits on the ability to sue for damages. That law was framed in populist terms, an attack on lawyers and frivolous lawsuits, fueled by a long-misunderstood lawsuit against a McDonald’s customer who was seriously burned by the restaurant’s coffee (though it was also a big boon for the companies as opposed to consumers).
It was, of course, a conservative document calling for cuts in taxes and welfare provision, a balanced budget, and higher military spending. But it contained no polarizing issues fueling the party’s conservative base — no mention of abortion or gun rights, or even the Clinton administration.
The message was more about politics than about changing the way a rigged system works. As the contract began, “citizens who want to join that body not only change its policies, but more importantly, we propose to restore the bonds of trust between the people and the elected officials”. Citizens, trust, change, restore: these words, if not more than precise policy, Gingrich hoped to win the Republican majority.
That’s because “The Contract with America” was not a document intended to motivate or motivate the conservative base. He wanted to appeal to a very specific segment of the electorate: the Perot voter.
Ross Perot, a billionaire from Texas, became a national phenomenon when he began appearing on CNN’s Larry King Live! In the early 1990s, he shocked both major parties with his presidential bid in 1992, and rightly so. Despite the eventful campaign, Perot won nearly 20% of the vote, enough to identify the Perot voter as a true swing vote in the two-party system.
But it was difficult to know how best to appeal to Perot voters, given Perot’s unorthodox platform. He supported abortion rights and gun ownership restrictions, but also supported a balanced budget and opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement, a free trade policy supported by both Democratic and Republican leadership.
To unravel the Perot puzzle, Gingrich worked with Frank Luntz, Perot’s pollster in the 1992 race. Luntz offered some very un-Gingrich advice: focus on popular issues phrased in catchy ways, without reference to party or divisive social issues. Gingrich should save his favorite political strategy, polarization, if he wants to win Perot votes.
The resulting “Contract with America” was an unusual departure from a rapidly radicalizing Republican Party in the 1990s. Whether it actually made a difference in the 1994 mandates is debatable. Polls suggest that only a small percentage of Americans considered voting, and it repelled as many voters as it attracted. Gingrich, hand firmly on the Speaker’s mat, quickly ran through the elements of the Contract and returned to his preferred approach of polarization and obstruction.
Whatever its political legacy, the Contract showed a way forward for the Republican Party very different from the one they ultimately elected. This also contrasts sharply with the “American Commitment.” That document is full of divisive issues, from trans athletes’ rights to abortion, guns and immigration. And while it’s very clear on policy, the Compromise’s preamble openly attacks the Democrats’ “extremist ideology” — espousing the polarizing tactics the party has perfected over the past quarter century.
Newt Gingrich, who was with McCarthy on Friday when the “Pledge to America” was unveiled, was not around in the 1990s. He stepped down as speaker in 1998 after a poor Republican run in 1998 and a censure for ethics violations. (He resigned his seat a few months later).
But there was a second act for Gingrich, who became a regular commentator on Fox News and ran for the Republican nomination in 2012 as Mitt Romney’s right-wing candidate. He was a champion of Donald Trump’s presidency and is now siding with McCarthy.
All of this makes “The Commitment to America” a direct successor to Newt Gingrich’s divisive political leadership, but also a far cry from his “America Contract.”