By: Frank Luntz
On election night 1994, as Republicans recaptured the House for the first time in 40 years, I stood in the audience and watched my client Newt Gingrich, who would soon become speaker of the House, declare the beginning of the “Republican revolution.” I knew immediately that the smartest man I had ever worked for was making the worst rhetorical blunder of his career. Nobody voted Republican to start a revolution. We all know what happened when Gingrich tried to turn his rhetoric into action.
Sound familiar? No one is quite saying “revolution” this week, but Republicans across the country, in their glee over Tuesday’s elections, are coming dangerously close to making the same mistake. True, there will now be more Americans under Republican representation than at any time in decades. It was a tsunami; someone needs to get the Democrats a towel. But that anti-Democrat wave was not the same as a pro-Republican endorsement. In many races that went from blue to red, Republican success was hardly because of what the GOP has achieved on Capitol Hill. In fact, if Americans could speak with one collective voice — all 310 million of them — this is what they said Tuesday night: “Washington doesn’t listen, Washington doesn’t lead and Washington doesn’t deliver.”
The current narrative, that this election was a rejection of President Obama, misses the mark. So does the idea that it was a mandate for an extreme conservative agenda. According to a survey my firm fielded on election night for the political-advocacy organisation Each American Dream, it was more important that a candidate “shake up and change the way Washington operates.” They voted out those who promised to do more in favour of those who said they would do less, but do it better. The results were less about the size of government than about making government efficient, effective and accountable.
Winning on Election Day is not the end. The question is: What can Republicans at all levels do to make this happen, and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past? First, hold Washington accountable. From the cover-ups of veterans dying while being denied care to using the IRS to target conservative groups, recent scandals highlight the chasm between hard-working taxpayers and Washington. But this also means holding your colleagues accountable. Second, make the people’s priorities your priorities. So tackle deficits and the national debt, and root out the waste and abuse of government programmes. Third, stop blustering and fighting. Don’t be afraid to work with your opponents if it means achieving real results.
This isn’t about pride of ownership regarding American progress; this is about progress, period. Americans don’t care about Democratic solutions or Republican solutions. They just want common-sense solutions that make everyday life just a little bit easier. But they can’t get their houses in order until Washington gets its own house in order.
The writer, a communications adviser and Republican pollster, is president of Luntz Global Partners, a consulting firm The New York Times