Monday, October 18, 2021
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Newt Gingrich: Happy anniversary, Contract with America. Here comes the next chapter

This week marks the 27th anniversary of the signing of the Contract with America on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

That event focused the election debate at a national level. It brought Republicans together on a common, understandable theme. It established a positive agenda, and it created a stunning contrast to the Democrats five weeks before the 1994 midterm elections.

David Broder noted the importance of the Capitol steps event in an Oct. 16, 1994 column titled “Finally, the Battle Begins.” The famed conservative Washington Post columnist wrote:

“Those of us who believe that campaigns should have consequences are encouraged by the way this 1994 election is developing. What began as an empty exercise in Congress-bashing is taking on some dimensions of a clear partisan and ideological battle.

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“The change began late last month, when the Republicans, who had been content simply to run against what they call ‘the Clinton Congress’ and its Democratic majorities, decided to tell people what they would do if they gained control in next month’s voting.

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“The “Contract With America,” signed by 300 Republican incumbents and challengers on Sept. 27, promised votes in the first 100 days on constitutional amendments to require a balanced budget and to limit congressional terms, on a series of tax cuts and on unspecified measures to strengthen national defense.”

Broder went on to point out that President Bill Clinton had responded by nationalizing the election and making it a choice between President Ronald Reagan and himself. This was a losing proposition because many Americans fondly remembered the Reagan years.

The Contract with America campaign led to the first U.S. House GOP majority in 40 years. Keeping our word on welfare reform, balancing the budget, cutting taxes and other issues led in 1996 to the first re-elected Republican House since 1930 (66 years).

Few may remember, but the Contract was actually the second Republican-led Capitol steps event. In 1980, then-candidate Reagan agreed to a joint House-Senate-Presidential event pledging a series of positive solutions to the nation’s challenges.

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As Broder wrote on Sept. 10, 1980, “the ceremony has substantive significance, at least in the minds of the junior House Republicans who concocted the notion and sold it to a somewhat reluctant Reagan campaign. It represents a serious and healthy departure from the norms of contemporary presidential campaigning.”

Noting that for the previous 25 years, presidential nominees had set the party agendas in Washington, Broder wrote that it was a myth that one person could change the country. He rightly pointed out that the legislative and executive branch bureaucracies, the lobbyists, and various cogs in the Washington machine were simply too big to for one person to move. 

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“What the Republicans are attempting to say with their Capitol steps theatrical is that Americans who want to change directions have to change control of the whole government. They have to reverse the majorities in Congress as well as turn out the incumbent from the White House,” Broder wrote. “It is proposition that offers great potential dividends for the congressional Republicans.”

Those great potential dividends showed up on Election Day 1980, when Republicans won five seats (Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, New Hampshire, and North Carolina) by a combined total of 52,173 votes. Idaho was closest at 4,262 votes.

1980 was a senatorial election in which George McGovern lost in South Dakota and Chuck Grassley won his first of seven U.S. Senate elections in Iowa (he is now running for his eighth term and is generally expected to win handily). 

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No one thought we would win control of the U.S. Senate in 1980, but Sen. Howard Baker woke up on Jan. 3, 1981, as majority leader. It was a key to getting the Reagan tax cut program through the first year. The 1980 Capitol steps event had more than justified itself.

Broder thought Reagan was taking a huge gamble – but one that was honest and good for America. As he put it: 

“The implicit message of Monday’s ceremony is that there can be only one government in Washington at a time and that if voters want Reagan to lead it effectively, they have to go all the way with the GOP.

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“That is an honest statement, and it is as commendable for the Republicans to dramatize it as it is risky.”

We had to overrule several Reagan political operatives in 1980. They wanted a nonevent with a Reagan speech and no national issue commitments. We ultimately threatened to cancel unless the other candidates had something to sign. Bill Casey, the campaign manager, intervened, sided with us, and the event went forward with substantive pledges.

I participated in both these historic events – the 1980 event and the Contract. So, I believe that (when well thought through and supported by the broad majority of the party and the country) these kinds of commitments can make a big difference.

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As you can imagine, I deeply supported Leader Kevin McCarthy’s commitment to America in 2020. Combined with his enormous success at recruiting women and minority candidates, McCarthy’s positive message turned a projected 25-seat loss into a 15-seat gain.

With the radicalism of the Big Government Socialists defining massively destructive policies, 2022 is a good year for Republicans to develop another positive agenda to unify Americans and rally voters.

Republicans can make history again – not for fame or acclaim, but for the good of Americans.

To read, hear, and watch more of Newt’s commentary, visit Gingrich360.com

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Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich is the host of the “Newt’s World” podcast and author of the New York Times bestseller “Trump and the American Future.” More of his commentary can be found at www.Gingrich360.com    

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