The 2010 Republican Playbook

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This is the Republican playbook for the 2010 midterm elections. It is virtually identical to the one they used in 1994 to retake Congress and hamstring a reformer president.

This playbook consists of 5 distinct steps:
Step 1: Avoid Responsibility for GOP Failures
Step 2: Increase Negativity
Step 3: “Throw the Bums Out!”
Step 4: Make Formal Pledge of Grandiose Promises
Step 5: Retake Congress


Reagan and Bush had created a devastating legacy following their landslide victory and the conservative paradigm shift away from the liberal policies in 1980. The incarceration rate was skyrocketing, partially due to the attacks on marijuana use. They pushed an overly aggressive military policy overseas. Most of all, they tripled the national debt.

If you let me write $200 billion worth of hot checks every year, I could give you an illusion of prosperity, too”

-Lloyd Bentsen

A center-right Southern Democratic governor named Bill Clinton (D-AR) came into the scene with an agenda of some moderate reforms. After destroying Bush and embarking on a somewhat ambitious agenda to change the course of the country, the wind appeared to be at his back. A mere 2 years later, the Republicans swept both chambers of congress in what would be termed the “Republican Revolution.” The following is an analysis of what happened then and now.

Step 1: Avoid Responsibility for GOP Failures

In 1992, the public was very disenfranchised with what the Republicans who controlled the increasingly powerful executive branch were doing with the country. They first key to changing things around was simple: sidestep blame for what had happened during any of the last 12 years. They proclaimed that what had happened was not due to GOP policy. It wasn’t their fault.

Following the disastrous results of the Bush regime and Republican dominated Congress in the last decade, they have repeated these claims, this time with a new twist. Republican operatives began hiding behind the libertarian banner and took over the fledgling Tea party movement with the message: lower taxes and less government. Their claim was that Bush and the Republicans in the past were never really ‘true’ conservatives in the first place, so once again, it was not really their fault.

This is a bit comical, because most of the same ones making this claim are the very congressional leaders and conservative media spokesman who pushed the very policies that were so devastating for the country in the first place. Deregulation was the primary factor leading to the collapse of the financial sector. Glenn Beck argued that the $700 billion TARP bill was too small. Their continuation of the persecution of marijuana users reached epic levels and crowded our prisons. Our military has grown to the point where we spend as much as the rest of the world combined. Not their fault.

Step 2: Increase Negativity

The next step in the Republican playbook was to increase the negativity. Through bitterly partisan politics and an obstructionist philosophy, they sought to stop any potential changes through any means necessary. This had the effect of both hampering legislation, but more importantly it generated a serious downturn on the publics perception of congress, whose approval ratings plummeted.

As back then, this step will be where they devote the majority of their effort in 2010. As we saw in 2009, there was a record number of filibusters, absurd accusations, delayed confirmations, and a genuine playbook of obstruction. The right wing media has gone off the deep end. They have been attacking with increasing ferocity and intensity, regardless of the truth behind their attacks (death panels, FEMA camps, birthers, etc.). The fight to reform the nations failing health care system has consumed nearly 9 months, when it should have taken 3 tops.

People are losing faith in all their elected officials as a consequence. Overall congressional approval is down to 21% with 72% disapproving. The fact that the Republicans numbers are only at a pathetic 9% (compared to 36% approval for the Democrats) is irrelevant, they are deliberately poisoning the well, setting the stage for the next step.

Step 3: “Throw the Bums Out!”

With all the discontentment, people are more prone to vote for someone new. If a strong progressive agenda (as some would say was mandated by the 2008 elections) were allowed to proceed, there would not be the impetus for new members of Congress, explaining their bitterly partisan obstruction. As in 1994, the whisper campaign to ‘throw the bums out’ and enact term limits has begun. If they succeed in retaking Congress, these shrieks will suddenly and mysteriously disappear, just like they did from 1995 on.

This time around, they are being more crafty about it however. By utilizing the Tea Parties, they are trying to capitalize on those formerly involved in 3rd party movements (Reform and Libertarian in particular) who tend to view both main parties as equally corrupt, regardless of which one is really more in the hands of corporations. The rallying cry is to vote *every* incumbent out, regardless of party. This is diabolical genius, because in the end, if voters reject the incumbents (mostly Democrats), the only viable alternative will be Republican candidates.

Step 4: Make Formal Pledge of Grandiose Promises

Why would the energized Tea Party base vote for Republicans after what their party did in the last 15-30 years (borrow and spend, foreign militarism, a failed drug war, etc.)? The GOP is banking on making them chose Republican candidates using a grandiose list of pledges to supposedly fulfill if they are elected. In 1994, this came later in the campaign, but this time around, it has already been released. It is the New Republican Contract on America.

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) was instrumental in crafting the first Contract, and now chairs FreedomWorks, the corporate funded group behind many of the new Tea Parties. This is the most critical step in the Republican 2010 playbook, and look for these talking points to be repeated ad nauseam.

Step 5: Retake Congress

The entire focus of this playbook is simple: to retake one or both chambers of Congress. In reality, all they really need is to retake one chamber to stop any legislative progress, which would effectively hamstring another reformer president.

The negativity employed in step 2 really is key to this whole plan. If the Republicans can continue on this path, they will create apathy with everyone except an energized right wing base. Bill Clinton stated, “When I was elected in 1992, 55% of Americans went to the polls. Two years later, that number was only 39%. With lower turnout, the more passionate partisans wins, …and the Republican base is energized.”

The result in 1994 was a loss of 54 seats in the House of Representatives, and 8 in the Senate. These new Republican majorities lasted for 12 years, and allowed the next president (Bush) to railroad disastrous pieces of legislation. With the recent surprise election of Scott Brown, the right wing birther conspiracy theorist in the former seat of Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, their plan appears to be coming together.

However, as previously noted there has been a generational shift in the American electorate, and the memories of what the Republicans did in the Bush years is still fresh in the memories of the public, so the outcome is still up in the air. Add to this, with 41 GOP in the Senate, they will be able to stop any piece of reform they wan to through an unprecedented campaign of obstruction, particularly abusing the filibuster, and that tactic could easily backfire. Only time will tell if this Republican 2010 playbook will work again.

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