Sen. Lindsey Graham talks with reporters after stepping off the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol, Nov. 21, 2013.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Contract with America, Part III?

The AP reported yesterday that Republicans are “gambling that ramping up new inquiries into old controversies” can serve as the party’s campaign platform in 2014. Running on “Obamacare” and the economy is out; running on the discredited Benghazi and IRS controversies is in.
 
As a practical matter, GOP leaders don’t seem to have a whole lot of choices. The Affordable Care Act is working. The job market is improving. Congressional Republicans have no accomplishments of their own, so they’re left with what amounts to a Fox News Platform – find some issues that get the base excited, whether it makes sense or not, and talk about little else.
 
There are some in the party, however, who believe this just isn’t good enough.
A faction of Republicans including Sen. Lindsey Graham is agitating for party leaders to unveil a policy manifesto in the midterm elections, detailing for voters what the GOP would attempt with a Senate majority its members are increasingly confident they’ll achieve.
 
Advocates of the strategy, which has triggered a closed-door debate in recent weeks among the party’s current 45 senators, say it would serve as a firm rejoinder to Democrats casting the GOP as the “party of no.” They say voters should know what they’d be getting by pulling the lever for Republicans in November.
The idea, apparently, is to model a policy agenda after the “Contract with America,” which the party touted in advance of the 1994 midterms.
 
It’s easy to understand the appeal of the idea. If Republicans unveil a platform, they’d give voters a chance to see what GOP policymakers would do with greater power. If the party does well, they might even have a plausible claim to a popular “mandate.”
 
But it’s still a bad idea.
 
For one thing, there’s no real point in Republicans over-promising a far-right agenda when there’s a Democratic president who’d veto conservative proposals. Maybe some voters would be moved by GOP candidates saying, “Vote for us and we’ll fight for a bunch of policies that stand no chance of success,” but most probably won’t.
 
For another, Republicans have clearly entered a post-policy phase, which would lead to a vague 2014 “Contract.” For example, the document would presumably call for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but as we’ve noticed for the last five years, Republicans have had some trouble coming up an actual health care plan of their own. Even trying to come up with such a document would likely exacerbate intra-party tensions.
 
And finally – and this is key – it doesn’t much matter. In September 2010, many in the party had the exact same idea: they needed a platform along the lines of the “Contract with America” to dazzle the American electorate before the midterms. The result was something called the Republicans’ “Pledge to America.”
 
It was, alas, a rather pathetic joke. Erick Erickson – Erick Erickson!called it “ridiculous,” adding, “This document proves the GOP is more focused on the acquisition of power than the advocacy of long term sound public policy.”
 
Ezra Klein explained at the time, “[Y]ou’re left with a set of hard promises that will increase the deficit by trillions of dollars, take health-care insurance away from tens of millions of people, create a level of policy uncertainty businesses have never previously known, and suck demand out of an economy that’s already got too little of it. You’re also left with a difficult question: What, exactly, does the Republican Party believe?”
 
Seven weeks after this wretched, almost laughable document was unveiled, impressing exactly no one, Republicans rode a wave to a House majority anyway. Few noticed or cared about their pitiful “Pledge” – a document that proved quite definitely that the GOP was wholly unprepared and incapable of governing effectively – but the party nevertheless won big and promptly forgot about its ludicrous platform.
 
(So, too, did everyone else. I take pride in my memory, but writing up this piece this morning, I honestly couldn’t think of a single tenet of the “Pledge,” other than repealing the ACA.)
 
If Republicans tried to put together a Contract with America, Part III, they’d run into the same trouble. They have no policy agenda to speak of, they couldn’t implement their ideas even if they came up with some credible ideas, and the public wouldn’t much care either way.
 

House Republicans and Senate Republicans

Contract with America, Part III?