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A Mandate for Rising Above It All

The Republicans can accomplish a lot if they resist the temptation to build their agenda on a damaged president.

November 07, 1996|LYN NOFZIGER | Lyn Nofziger is a longtime political analyst and former aide to President Reagan

Whither the Republicans now, after the voters' decision to retain the national status quo?

For that matter, whither the nation and whither the Democrats?

It is plain that both parties are going to have to rethink not only where they want to lead the nation, but also how they intend to reach a position where one or the other can lead.

It is not going to be easy, because if one thing is clear today, it is that the people--those who bother to vote, at least--prefer a divided government. The gridlock bogeyman with which President Clinton attempted to scare the American people apparently does not frighten them as much as checks and balances appeal to them.

Thus, while the Democrats' attempt to convince the voters that the Republicans would destroy Medicare, end college loans and take away other federal goodies was at least partly responsible for reelecting President Clinton, it failed in its objective of returning the Democrats to majority status in Congress.

This failure gives the Republicans a second chance to do what they set out to do after their huge victory of 1994.

The reelection Tuesday of many of the adamantly conservative members of the congressional classes of 1992 and 1994 suggests that the much maligned "contract with America" was more widely approved at the grass-roots level than the national news media and the Democratic leadership would have us believe.

That being the case, it will be surprising if the Republicans, led in the House by a rejuvenated Newt Gingrich and in the Senate by the even more conservative Trent Lott, do not again try to pass a number of initiatives near and dear to them, such as: the balanced budget constitutional amendment; an across-the-board tax cut, while changing and simplifying the tax code; toughening the war on drugs; increasing efforts to stop illegal immigration; ending government-mandated affirmative action and outlawing partial-birth abortions.

In all likelihood, they will be helped along by a president too gravely crippled to put up much of a fight. For if anything is certain to come out of this election, it is that the Republican Congress will open hearings into every alleged White House scandal, including the most recent one, the money laundering scheme that apparently involves both the White House and the Democratic National Committee.

In addition, the president and his wife will be faced with the ever widening investigations of independent counsel Kenneth Starr.

But the Republicans must not count on being able to build and enlarge their base on a damaged or destroyed Democratic president. Over the years, America's two major political parties have proven to be extremely resilient, bouncing back time after time in the wake of major scandals and crushing defeats.

Instead, the Republicans need to push ahead with and enlarge their "contract with America" agenda and move toward what Lott calls a "smaller and smarter" federal government. This means they cannot afford to knuckle under to presidential demands, as they tended to do late in the last session of Congress.

To the contrary, Clinton may well find it to his advantage to move closer to the Republicans to give the impression of bipartisanship and show the nation that he is not the bad guy the investigations and hearings might make him out to be.

In the 105th Congress, and in the House, especially, the Republicans must build a strong leadership impervious to Democratic attacks on their legislative agenda.

Also, the Republicans must rebuild their party at the state and local levels, especially in those states that Ronald Reagan and George Bush won but have since moved into the Democratic column.

All of the above, of course, is short-term. Long-term goals require strong, united leadership in the White House and Congress.

And that does not appear to be much of a likelihood any time soon.

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