Democrats are gloating about Uncle Junior’s imminent swearing in, while conservatives are despondent—and rightly so. We played by the rules, and when we asked that the vote counts in states that DIDN’T play by the rules be examined, we were accused of being in denial, or, most recently, of inciting riots. It is now a gospel of conventional wisdom that the notion of the election being stolen is a lie. Get over it, they say, or YOU just might lose your Twitter privileges.
We aren’t going anywhere, of course, but the sense that it’s all over prevails at the moment. We have to shake this off—not simply dismiss it, but recognize that it’s happened, and that the only way to right the wrong of election 2020 at this point is to win big in 2022.
The good news is, historically, the sitting president’s party almost always loses congressional seats in the midterm elections (the most conspicuous counterexample is 2002, in which Republicans gained seats in both the House and the Senate—probably as a result of Bush’s leadership in the wake of 9/11). Since FDR, in fact, the party in the White House has lost an average of 26 House seats in the midterms.
And then there was 1994, in which the Republicans won a whopping 54 House seats and 10 Senate seats. So what happened that year? For starters, Bill Clinton was as hated by Republicans back then as Trump is hated by Democrats today. He had won the White House two years earlier with just 43 percent of the popular vote, thanks to the unprecedented success of Reform Party candidate Ross Perot, who garnered nearly 20 percent of the vote, largely at H.W. Bush’s expense.
Nevertheless, Clinton governed as though he had a mandate, raising taxes on gasoline, individuals and corporations, and promising socialized medicine. To his own party he wasn’t disciplined enough—not doing much, for example, about the liberal social concerns of the day that he had championed during his campaign. Two years into Clinton’s first term, Republicans would have gained seats irrespective of their campaign issues and efforts.
But gaining control of Congress for the first time in 40 years required more than just running against Bill. It required a unified message to tout, rather than the hundreds of individual campaign platforms typical of congressional elections up to that point. Enter Newt Gingrich and his Contract With America, which was very specific in its aspirations, from tax cuts and welfare reform to even fixing Social Security—a bold (and still unrealized) undertaking. America, having rejected Clintonism for the moment, loved it.
The lessons of 1994 today are, first, that in two years, Republicans will win back the House easily; and second, that the opportunity to win 30-plus seats exists—but only if the party unites. All but two Republicans signed onto the Contract With America back then; last week, ten Republicans voted to impeach Trump. They have to go. Period. As Lindsey Graham said on Sunday Morning Futures, President Trump is “the most important figure in the Republican Party,” capable of shaping “the direction of the party and keeping [his] movement alive.”
A 2022 Trump Contract With America, anyone?