In advance of the 1994 midterm elections, Newt Gingrich and his Republican brethren put together a 10-point policy to-do list called the "Contract with America." Soon after, the GOP won its first House majority in four decades and a political legend was born.
By most measures, the efficacy of the "Contract" has been exaggerated over time. There's plenty of evidence that most Americans were wholly unfamiliar with the document before Election Day, and Republican gains had more to do with Southern realignment than Gingrich's gimmick.
But assorted partisans were nevertheless convinced that the key to historic congressional gains is to present voters with a handy list of popular-sounding measures that a party promised to pursue if elected.
It's against this backdrop that a certain former president has bought into the idea. Politico reported this week:
With an eye toward winning back the House and Senate in the 2022 midterm elections, former President Donald Trump has begun crafting a policy agenda outlining a MAGA doctrine for the party. His template is the 1994 "Contract with America," a legislative agenda released ahead of the midterm elections in the middle of President Bill Clinton's first term. And, as a cherry on top, he's teaming up with its main architect — [former House Speaker Newt] Gingrich — to do it.
The article added that, in addition to Gingrich, Trump has also sat down with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows at Mar-a-Lago to discuss the agenda.
And while it's too early to start critiquing the blueprint's provisions, Politico reported the "Trumpified Contract" is "likely to take an 'America-First' policy approach on everything from trade to immigration. The source described it as 'a policy priority for 2022 and beyond.'"
At this point, we could joke about the degree to which Lindsey Graham continues to debase himself by effectively playing the role of caddy for the failed former president. We could also marvel at how poorly suited Gingrich is for such a role.
But while those angles are certainly relevant, I'm stuck on a different kind of question: Donald Trump is only now interested in "crafting a policy agenda outlining a MAGA doctrine for the party"?
When the Republican launched his presidential campaign six years ago next month, he made a deliberate choice not to bother with any kind of substantive policy proposals. "It's just a waste of paper," Candidate Trump said. "My voters don't care and the public doesn't care."
Once in the White House, Trump continued to show no interest in developing a governing blueprint or crafting individual proposals (see every chapter of my book). Last year, he became the first Republican nominee for national office in 150 years not to bother with a platform.
By Election Day 2020, Joe Biden's campaign website featured relatively detailed proposals on 46 policy areas. In contrast, Trump's website featured literally zero policy plans and didn't bother with an issues page.
But now that he's out of office, Trump is finally of the opinion that working on some kind of policy to-do list might be a good idea -- not for him, of course, but for Republicans running in the 2022 midterm cycle. It'd be hilarious if this weren't so pitiful.