It’s time for the GOP to get down to brass tacks. Republicans are positively giddy at the prospect of retaking the House of Representatives, but, to make their dreams a reality, they have to be more than just the Party of No. They have to develop and disseminate an actual agenda. To do that they’re teaming up with the party faithful and K Street lobbyists to produce a new platform. It’s less providing leadership than being led, but at least it’s something.
But if you feel like this is déjà vu all over again, that’s because it is. In the years since they lost their majority, and in the months since Obama took office, Republicans have tried time and again to cast themselves as more than a (dis)loyal minority, introducing policy ideas, rebranding efforts, and other gimmicks. All of them have quickly fizzled and been swept into the dustbin, never to be mentioned again.
Whether this latest effort stands the test of time or not is an open question. But with that in mind, here’s a highlight reel of failed Republican renaissances.
1. “The Change You Deserve”
This one goes back more than two years, when the slim Democratic majority in Congress was going toe-to-toe on a daily basis with the Bush administration, and Republicans were in free fall. Republican leadership created a new message: Change You Deserve. “Through our ‘Change You Deserve’ message and through our ‘American Families Agenda,’ House Republicans will continue our efforts to speak directly to an American public looking for leaders who will offer real solutions for the challenges they confront every day,” read a memo sent to Republican House members at the time.
Sadly, it turned out, “Change You Deserve” was the registered marketing slogan for the antidepressant Effexor XR. Republicans were pummeled in a landslide election later that year.
2. Hip Hop GOP LOL
Maybe Michael Steele felt sorry for his allies on the Hill after their failures. Or maybe he thought it would be better if the hounds of mockery chased him instead of elected officials. Whatever the reason, he too took a stab at creating a new GOP. Maybe he should have called it GOP two-point-baller. “We want to convey that the modern-day GOP looks like the conservative party that stands on principles,” Steele told the Washington Times. “But we want to apply them to urban-suburban hip-hop settings.”
“It will be avant garde, technically,” he posited. “It will come to the table with things that will surprise everyone - off the hook.” For good measure: “I don’t do ‘cutting-edge.’ That’s what Democrats are doing. We’re going beyond cutting-edge.” And then he stomped off to take cool pictures with his interns.
3. Cantor’s Comeback?
If at first you don’t succeed, try the exact same thing over again without making any changes. Or so the saying apparently goes in House Republican Caucus meetings. After “Change You Deserve” died, and Obama swept into office, Republicans created a new initiative last Spring: The National Council for a New America. NCNA was the brainchild of Eric Cantor — long engaged in a leadership struggle with Minority Leader John Boehner — meant to counter the Democrats’ “party of no” mantra. One ingredient that may have spoiled that effort: Republicans continued voting no on everything.
Another spoiler? It may have violated House ethics rules. NCNA was disbanded after about a year.
“It’s very simple,” said Rob Collins, Cantor’s former deputy chief of staff at the time. “The NCNA dominated the national media so effectively that liberals in and out of Congress — including [Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington] — attacked it.” Guess that’s why almost no one ever heard of it.
4. The Budget That Wasn’t
Nothing gets juices flowing in Washington like the yearly
non-binding framework federal budget (which might be why other people think D.C. is boring). In March 2009, just after Obama took office, the Democrats put together an ambitious one. Not to be outdone, Republicans decided to draw up a plan of their own. Except what they unveiled — an 18-page glossy white paper of ideas with no actual budget numbers — made them the laughing stock of wonks and Democrats everywhere.
So shamtastic was the GOP “Road to Recovery” that it ignited semi-public infighting among GOP leadership over who was at fault. “In his egocentric rush to get on camera, Mike Pence threw the rest of the Conference under the bus, specifically Paul Ryan, whose staff has been working night and day for weeks to develop a substantive budget plan … I hope his camera time was gratifying enough to justify erasing the weeks of hard work by dozens of Republicans to put forth serious ideas,” said one GOP aide.
5. The Budget That Might Have Been
What was that anonymous GOP aide talking about when he said leadership threw Paul Ryan, House Republicans’ top budget guy, under the bus? Ryan’s been something of a prop for the GOP: a policy man who they hold forth as an emblem of Republican thinking and big ideas — until those ideas come under scrutiny and they, well, throw him under the bus. Over the course of months, Ryan had put together a series of policy changes (tax and entitlement cuts, mostly) that he claimed would bring America into fiscal balance over the course of decades. A “Roadmap for America’s Future.”
His ambitious legislation made a splash when it was first unveiled: praised by conservatives, and held forth by Democrats as a serious but flawed Republican plan to slash Medicare. So Republicans ran away from it. Then experts took a look at it and concluded it would probably wreck the economy if it was ever enacted. So much for new ideas, and new faces.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.