The year was 1994. The Democratic Party had an 82 seat advantage over Republicans in the House of Representatives in the 102nd Congress and looked unbeatable as a political coalition in the midst of Bill Clinton’s presidency. The media characterized the GOP as a party lacking any political substance, focused more on attacking the reputations of President Clinton and his allies rather than uniting behind a specific set of policy goals.
Under Newt Gingrich, who would become Speaker of the House, the Republican Party formulated a substantive political agenda, explicitly detailing the reforms and proposed legislative bills that its potential House majority would pass if given the opportunity. This vision for America led to the GOP taking back the House for the first time since 1953 and marked a period of political realignment throughout the country.
Now, according to reports from various media outlets, the original creator of the Contract with America, Gingrich himself, has been holding meetings with Donald Trump, former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) regarding the drafting of a new Republican platform. As president, Trump firmly steered the Republican Party toward an “America First” ideology that often conflicted with the priorities of the Republican status quo. An updated manifesto of GOP political thought for the near future would undoubtedly consist mainly of Trump’s America First doctrine put into a formal policy outline attractive to Republicans across the nation.
Democrats have enjoyed the media’s spotlight on infighting within the Republican Party. A refurbished Contract with America might just turn the tables on the party’s sagging image.
The primary question for such a manifesto remains: What guiding principles would Republicans prioritize to achieve electoral and legislative victory in 2022? Although President Trump’s governance was significantly influenced by conservative thought, he and his supporters were unafraid of deviating from the status quo for what they considered to be the betterment of the nation. The interventionist, neoconservative attitude that dominated the Republican Party since George W. Bush was abandoned in favor of increased nationalism where it could be afforded.
The supposed dedication to neoliberalism and fiscal conservatism gave way to economic populism. Long-standing multilateral free trade agreements were set aside, and the rejection of globalism became a hot topic that would unite the Republican Party. These groundbreaking shifts in ideology took place in just four years and united many Republicans against the establishment legislators who made up their own ranks.
In the old Contract with America, the proposed platform sought to avoid culturally controversial topics of the time like abortion and school prayer. Instead, it focused on traditional conservative goals like fiscal responsibility, crime-fighting, cuts in government programs, comprehensive tax reform, and a thinning of bureaucratic regulations. Although many of the proposed bills did not end up being signed, President Clinton was forced to negotiate and compromise with House Republicans on several proposals. Compared to before, Republicans appeared solidly united under the leadership of Newt Gingrich, who masterfully whipped the party into a cohesive political faction, until he was ousted in 1999.
As the culture war heats up throughout the country, many have begun to speculate that a new Contract with America will primarily focus on sociological aspects of American society. Despite the old contract’s hesitance to engage with Democrats over sensitive topics, circumstances today will certainly require Republicans to take a stand in controversial debates. Despite opposition from many conservatives who believe they can coast to victory in 2022 and beyond without Trump, the majority of the Republican Party appears to support the successors of the America First movement. Can the GOP abandon Trump without self-destructing for the 2022 midterms and beyond?
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