At The Threshold – WCPAC Speech By Congressman Tom McClintock

Speech was given to Western Conservative Political Action Conference in Newport Beach on October 15, 2010.

What a difference two years makes!

Tom McClintock
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Tom McClintock

During the debacle two years ago, the generic Republican Congressional candidate trailed the Democrat by 6 points among likely voters in the Gallup poll.  Today, Gallup reports that the generic Republican leads the Democrat by 17 points among likely voters.

The National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee is now expanding its reach, just as Democrats are pulling out of key elections in the bellwether states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.

How big could the Republican sweep actually be?

Six months ago, Real Clear Politics published an article of Sean Trende that didn’t get much attention.  It should have.  While Martha Coakley was vacationing after her triumphant primary, Trende was the political analyst who stood alone in 2009 in predicting that the Massachusetts Senate election could end with a Republican victory.

This is what he wrote back in April: He said: 

“Let me say upfront that I tend to agree with analysts who argue that if we move into a V shaped recovery and President Obama’s job approval improves, Democratic losses could be limited to twenty or twenty-five seats.

“That said, I think those who suggest that the House is barely in play, or that we are a long way from a 1994-style scenario are missing the mark.  A 1994- style scenario is probably the most likely outcome at this point.  Moreover, it is well within the realm of possibility – not merely a far-fetched scenario – that Democratic losses could climb into the 80- or 90 seat range.  The Democrats are sailing into a perfect storm of factors influencing a midterm election, and if the situation declines for them in the pursuing months, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Democratic losses eclipse 100 seats.”

He then went on to chart what he calls the “wave” midterm elections since the date was made uniform after the Civil War.  He charted three conditions: a poor economy, a previous wave election for the party in power (that is, the pendulum has gone about as far as it will) and a controversial agenda by the party in power.  He then noted that when two of these three factors are present, the party that controls the presidency loses 50 seats.  There were three midterm elections since the Civil War when all three factors were present.  In 1874, the party in power lost 96 seats; in 1894, it lost 125 seats; in 1938, it lost 79 seats.  All three of those determinative factors are lined up once again.  

This year’s mid-term election may not be unprecedented – but it could well be something far different than anything we have experienced in our lifetimes.

In fact, when Frank Luntz came to lecture House Republicans about “The Language of Health Care” a full year ago, he began by saying, “Before I talk about the subject today, I need to tell you guys something.  I have spent the last three months looking at polling data from Congressional districts across the country.  You guys are going to be in the majority next year.  This time, for God’s sake don’t screw it up again.”

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And that really is the fine point of it all.

One of the most anguished commentaries on the last 20 years of our political experience came from Peggy Noonan in a column she wrote over a year ago.  She reflected on the two Bush administrations and wrote of a “squandering of legacy.” 

Legacy: a valuable gift that someone else has earned and given to us. 

George H.W. Bush received a precious legacy through no merit of his own – fate literally handed him Ronald Reagan’s Third Presidential Term.  He never appreciated it, never valued it, never understood it, and utterly squandered it.

The son was handed an even more precious legacy – something Ronald Reagan never had: a Republican Congress. 

I remember struggling in the political vineyards for decades – knocking on countless doors for candidates, pounding in yard signs, stuffing envelopes hoping against all reason that someday, maybe in my lifetime, we would have a Republican President AND a Republican Congress – and then we could save our country.

And for six years, we had exactly that.  And Bush and Congressional Republicans utterly and completely squandered it.

In fact, they did worse.  They increased spending at twice the rate of Bill Clinton.  They turned four years of budget surpluses into eight years of budget deficits. They presided over unprecedented government intervention in the housing market that created a catastrophic bubble.  They left America’s borders wide open and yawned as millions of foreign nationals illegally crossed our borders. 

Is it any wonder that the American people threw Republicans out of office?  The American people didn’t abandon Republican principles.  They looked at Republicans and decided that Republicans had abandoned Republican principles.

They looked at John McCain and saw – quite accurately– George W. Bush’s third term. 

The good news, if you can call it that, is that the American people are now discovering that they got something a lot worse than George W. Bush’s third term – they got Jimmy Carter’s second term.

Now we are about to be given a precious legacy by the American people, perhaps even more valuable than the others.  We’re about to be given a second chance.  This time, we’ve got to be worthy of that legacy.

A long-time House Republican staff member confided to me recently, “Thank God McCain lost.” 

“What do you mean by that?” I said.

“Don’t you see?  If McCain had been elected, Cap and Trade would have gone through as a Republican initiative; Amnesty would have gone through as a Republican initiative; the bailouts and stimulus bills would have been Republican initiatives.

“He would have pushed them, the Democrats would have approved them, and Republicans would have been blamed for them.”

If you doubt that for a moment, look at the unfolding campaign in California. 

While political analysts predict historic Republican gains across the country, you don’t hear any discussion of Republicans taking a majority of the California legislature in the very same election that has Barney Frank in trouble in Massachusetts. 

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There’s a reason for that.  In California, the Democrats are attacking Republicans for imposing the biggest state tax increase in American history.  The Democrats are attacking Republicans for exempting the police unions from pension reform. 

The Republicans are advertising their opposition to Arizona’s immigration law.  The Republicans are opposing Prop 23 to stop the most draconian global warming restrictions in the world.

Yesterday, the Riverside Press Enterprise carried an article headlined, “Few Inland Republicans Support Pension (Reform) Bill.”  The Senate Republican Leader opposed pension reform on the Senate floor with these words:

“What I’d really like to see is…the administration to go and deal with the CCPOA (the prison guards union) and actually bring a (contract) to the floor…Because this will end up being used, I feel, unfairly, against them as a bargaining tool.”

People often say to me, “You must feel awfully lonely in Washington.”  My response is, “I was awfully lonely in Sacramento.  In Washington, I have lots of company.”

During almost all of the 22 years I served in the California legislature, I fought Republican leaders who thought their job was to help the Democrats enact their agenda. 

I used to lecture them that, “Sorry, we don’t get to govern.  That’s what the election was all about.  Only the majority gets to govern.  But we have an equally important task.  Our job is to develop a better vision of governance, take that vision to the people and earn their charter to govern.”  For 22 years, with only a couple of exceptions, that lecture fell on deaf ears.

You can imagine my joy in sitting down at my first House Republican Conference meeting and hearing that very same lecture delivered by the Republican leaders to the rank-and-file.

It was the decision by the House Leadership to rediscover and revive our Republican principles of individual freedom and limited government, that has galvanized House Republicans, united them as a determined voice of opposition to the left, and rallied the American people. 

There’s a reason there was unanimous Republican opposition to so-called stimulus spending and near-unanimous opposition to Obamacare and Cap-and-Trade.  Republicans rediscovered why they were Republicans, and Republican leaders rediscovered Reagan’s advice to paint our positions in bold colors and not hide them in pale pastels.

And across this entire country (at least until you reach the Left Coast of California) you can see the fruit of that return to Republican principles – the American people have awakened and are willing to place their trust – however cautiously – in our candidates once again.

And God help us if we betray that trust once again.

People ask, why should we trust Republicans after what they did during the Bush years?  I can at least offer this observation: most of the Republicans-in-name-only who produced that debacle were turned out of office in 2006 and 2008 and 2010 – and were replaced by Republicans fiercely determined to restore Republican principles as the foundation of our public policy.

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I believe that the debate in the next 18 days and in the next several elections will determine whether the United States of America will fade into history as just another failed socialist state, or whether this generation will rediscover its legacy and resume America’s historic rise as the beacon of freedom to all mankind.

The next 18 days – as important as they are – pale in comparison to the challenge of the next two years – to demonstrate Republican principles in action at a moment in history when they are so desperately needed.

That’s where Western Conservatives have our work cut out for us. We need to put our time, energy and resources into those candidates who actually share our principles and to reject those – regardless of party – who have proclaimed, through word or deed – their hostility to those principles.

The Democrats accuse us of being the party of “no.”  When somebody is driving you off a cliff, “no” is a pretty handy word to have in your vocabulary. 

As Churchill said, “Alexander the Great remarked that the people of Asia were slaves because they had not learned to pronounce the word “No.” Let that not be the epitaph of the English-speaking peoples or of Parliamentary democracy…There, in one single word, is the resolve which the forces of freedom and progress, of tolerance and good will, should take.”

But that is not the only word in our vocabulary — not by a long shot.  During the last two years, House Republicans have laid out detailed plans to restore the finances of our government and the prosperity of our economy, to return freedom of choice and affordability to health care, to restore the integrity of our borders, and to return to our states their rightful powers and prerogatives.

I know that some conservatives have criticized the Republican Pledge to America for being too long on principles and two short on specific policies. 

I would remind them that great parties are built on great principles, and they are judged by their devotion to those principles.

It is principles that drive policies, and the Pledge to America clearly restores and revives those uniquely American principles of individual freedom and limited government that once produced the most prosperous and successful Republic in the history of the world. 

Ronald Reagan was right – the history of the last four centuries tells us plainly that Providence had a purpose in placing this continent where it is, to receive what Lincoln called “the last best hope” of mankind – the American Republic.   

I believe, starting in 18 days, it is those principles set forth for mankind in the Declaration of Independence and reaffirmed for this generation in the Pledge to America that will guide our nation into its next great era of expansion, prosperity and influence. 

Ladies and gentlemen, we’re a decade late, but I believe America has finally arrived at the threshold of her greatest Century.

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