We’re Going Back in Time
Politico’s Jeanne Cummings has a fine analysis of the GOP’s “1993 all over again” strategy for opposing President Obama and the Democrats, even if she assumes too much by suggesting that a health care plan “beyond what Obama promised on the campaign trail” would be unpopular with voters. Republicans are, indeed, telling every reporter who wants to listen that they want to copy Newt Gingrich’s strategy for opposing President Bill Clinton.
Cummings finds three reasons why the 1993 strategy won’t work: the popularity of the president, the decline of the GOP (it had actually picked up seats in 1992 while Bill Clinton won the presidency with the lowest share of the vote for a victor since 1968), and the Obama team’s experience of what happened in 1993. That last factor is incredibly important. Rahm Emanuel, the White House Chief of Staff, served in the Clinton administration during Newt Gingrich’s ascendancy. But Eric Cantor, the House Republican whip who’s seen (correctly) as the leader of a Gingrich II strategy, was not elected until 2000. Neither was Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the third-ranking House Republican. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) was not elected until 1998, and he’s incredibly young—he was 24 years old when the Gingrich Republicans took back Congress.
Another factor, probably the most important, is the Senate majority that Obama can count on versus the majority that President Clinton had to work with. After the 1992 elections Democrats had 56 seats in the Senate. In June 1993, Kay Bailey Hutchison won the special election for the Texas seat vacated by Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, and the majority dropped to 55-45. That majority included two men—Richard Shelby of Alabama and Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado—who opposed much of Bill Clinton’s agenda and would, by the end of 1994, switch to the GOP.
All of this means that Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas), the minority leader in the 103rd Congress, had a functional 47 Senate seats to work with by the summer of 1993. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has only 41 seats to work with, a number that will not change until 2011 unless Al Franken loses the election contest in Minnesota. (If the ailing Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd pass away, both will have replacements chosen by Democratic legislatures and governors.) The difference is massive, and will undercut every single Republican attempt to copy 1993.