Next year in Washington is not going to be a replay of 1995. The analogy is on everyone’s mind in the capital. Many Republicans worry that President Obama will win the public-relations war against Speaker-to-be John Boehner as handily as Bill Clinton bested Newt Gingrich. They should relax.
The parallels are obvious. Both times, a young Democrat had succeeded George Bush in the presidency and then worked with a Democratic Congress to push a liberal agenda. In the next election Republicans ran against big government and won elections up and down the ballot, picking up governorships and seats in the Senate, the House, and state legislatures. Pollster Kristen Soltis points out that much of the data from the 2010 election looks nearly identical to the numbers from 1994. In both elections, for example, roughly 55 percent of independents chose Republican congressional candidates.
Republicans don’t want what happened after the last Republican takeover to recur. During the winter of 1995–96, the new Republican Congress battled with Clinton over the budget — a battle that reached its climax in partial shutdowns of the government. The public sided with Clinton. His approval ratings rose while Gingrich’s plummeted.
The conservative campaign to limit the size and scope of the federal government never really recovered from this defeat. Within a few years congressional Republicans were beginning to run for reelection on pork and incumbency rather than reform, and George W. Bush was advancing a “compassionate conservatism” as a way of distinguishing himself from the Gingrichites.
But there are several differences between 2011 and 1995 that should work in favor of Republicans.
Chief among them: having been through 1995, Republicans recognize “that you can’t govern from the Hill” and President Obama is NOT Bill Clinton.