Ahead of the 1994 midterm elections, House Republicans, led by future Speaker Newt Gingrich, presented voters with the "Contract with America." For the first time in nearly a half-century, the GOP claimed a House majority soon after.
It wasn't long before many observers made the case that one development caused the other: Republicans crafted an agenda, voters liked what the GOP was offering, and the party won big at the ballot box. The truth is far more nuanced: Polling at the time suggested most Americans had no idea what Gingrich's "contract" said, and Republicans likely would've done just as well in that election cycle had the legislative blueprint never existed.
But some myths linger anyway, and plenty of political insiders continue to believe that if a congressional minority intends to become a congressional majority, the party better unveil some kind of governing agenda ahead of Election Day.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell clearly disagrees. Axios reported overnight:
Mitch McConnell has told colleagues and donors Senate Republicans won't release a legislative agenda before next year's midterms, according to people who've attended private meetings with the minority leader.... Every midterm cycle, there are Republican donors and operatives who argue the party should release a positive, proactive governing outline around which candidates can rally. McConnell adamantly rejects this idea, preferring to skewer Democrats for their perceived failures.
As a strategic matter, I'm not convinced McConnell's wrong. There's no shortage of examples of Republicans doing just fine in election cycles without anything resembling a policy agenda — see 2010, 2014, and 2016 — notwithstanding memories from 1994.
What's more, as far as McConnell is concerned, with the GOP currently controlling no levers of federal policymaking power, the goal for the 2022 midterm elections should be to create a referendum, not a choice. There are certainly risks associated with such a strategy — by next fall, if things are going well in the United States, voters may not feel the need for a dramatic change — but the Senate Republican leader's tactical approach is hardly absurd.
But stepping back, there's a larger significance to this.
First, even if McConnell and his team came to the opposite conclusion about 2022, there's no escaping the fact that the Republican Party couldn't present a policy blueprint because it's a post-policy party that has no governing agenda. A modern-day sequel to the "Contract with America" would effectively be blank for the far-right party.
Note, as recently as last year, the Republican Party didn't bother to create a national platform for the first time since 1854. The idea that GOP officials would unveil a blueprint two years later, after expressing effectively no interest in governing, is folly.
And second, if Republicans bundled together some of their vague policy preferences into some kind of 2022 agenda, it'd be filled with unpopular ideas that Democrats would gladly use against them. After all, what do contemporary GOP officials want? Tax breaks for the wealthy, weaker social-insurance programs that families depend on, weaker gun laws, and a systemic effort to roll back the clock on reproductive rights, voting rights, civil rights, and environmental protections.
It's a tough sell for a party that wants to win.
That said, Axios' report added that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is still exploring a pre-2022 agenda for his members and candidates to run on. I can hardly wait.