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In recent political history, the United States has been engulfed in the politics of opposition. Rather than campaigning on their own merits, each party has traditionally pointed out the opposition’s flaws. This episode’s guest, the former political director for the Republican National Committee, Gentry Collins, explains that the 2018 midterms were no different.
With the 116th Congress meeting today, delve into how the new Democratic majority can help can move the United States past the politics of opposition and into a more substantive politics. We also cover the messages and strategies Republicans and Democrats need to bring into 2020 to ensure their success.
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The Politics of Opposition
In Recent Political History
“Both parties have made the same mistake over the last dozen years or so of American political history, which is that we’ve won not by winning a mandate of our own, but by forcing the other party to lose or taking advantage of the weakness in the other party.”Gentry Collins
Gentry discusses two examples of this phenomenon from both parties. The first was how Democrats won the House in 2006 on an anti-Bush message, while the second was how Republicans won the House in 2010 by opposing ObamaCare. Gentry, who was the National Political Director at the Republican National Committee at the time, says the 2010 campaign was run on the words, “Fire Pelosi.”
“In hindsight, we won those elections by opposing Democrats, not by saying to the country here’s how we get you to a better place.”Gentry Collins
The 2018 Midterms
“As good a night as the Democrats had, I don’t believe that it was as positive a night for Democrats as has been made out.”Gentry Collins
The 2018 midterms, Gentry says, were a status quo election in that they continued the decade-long pattern of a politics of opposition. In addition, he believes that the Democrats didn’t win as much as the Republicans lost.
“What history will tell you is that this wasn’t a major wave election. It was a good night for Democrats, but it was a good night for Democrats largely because Republicans ran a poor campaign, didn’t keep their promises, and opposition to that was successful in this midterm.”Gentry Collins
“The onus will be on President Trump to say, ‘Here is how my presidency, to date, has lifted the country to a better place.'”Gentry Collins on President Trump heading into the 2020 elections.
Gentry explains that presidential elections differ from midterm elections in that the campaigns are generally less focused on the politics of opposition. However, midterm elections have heavily focused on the politics of opposition, with the exception of 2002, which Gentry explains was likely because the country was still reeling from the attacks of 9/11.
“[The Democratic Party’s] base will demand vigorous opposition to President Trump––probably for some good reason in some areas. Yet, I don’t think opposition to any president, President Trump included, is sufficient. I think in a presidential election there is a demand, and an opportunity, for something other than opposition.”Gentry Collins on Democratic strategy heading into 2020
“I fundamentally believe that the country is still a centrist, and maybe even a center-right country. We don’t think Washington can run our lives better than we can run our lives ourselves.”Gentry Collins on the United States’ political demographics heading into the 2020 election
A Geographic Problem
“I would say that what is less talked about, but equally impactful at the presidential level, is that Democrats have a geographic problem. There are fewer and fewer states where the Democratic party and the Democratic nominee for president are really competitive.”Gentry Collins
As evidence of this claim, Gentry discusses how Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was competitive in about half the counties that Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. This is also reported, under a different context, by FiveThirtyEight.
Reflections on the 1990s
1994 & 1996 Republicans’ Contract with America
Republicans in 1994, Gentry tells us, ran on more than simply opposition to Clinton. Rather, they campaigned on the Contract with America, a policy agenda which they pursued once they were elected that only included items supported by 60% or more of the American population.
“What happened is [Clinton] went from losing much worse than the Democrats did this time around, to winning re-election with relative ease a couple of years later.”Gentry Collins on President Clinton’s gains in the 1996 election, which Collins says was partially due to his willingness to pursue a bipartisan policy agenda with Republicans.
Impeachment and the 1998 Election
“I would caution my Democratic friends that one of the great mistakes that modern conservatives made, was conflating the term ‘conservative’ with how aggressive are you going to oppose President Clinton in his second term, how aggressively are you going to oppose President Obama. That was a desperate mistake…to limit those ideas simply to opposing the other.Gentry Collins
One of the very few cycles in American midterm history, Gentry says, where the president’s party picked up seats, was in 1998. By then, he says, Republicans were no longer the Contract with America party, but instead were pursuing the Monica Lewinsky scandal and impeachment for President Clinton.
“If they really believe their set of ideas elevates the country in a meaningful, constructive, durable, inclusive way, then they ought to be focused first on those ideas and then on their political adversaries.”Gentry Collins on how he thinks Democrats can take advantage of the 2020 election.
The Future of the Republican Party
“How do Republicans become the party that is best for the American people?”Luke Scorziell to Gentry Collins, the former National Political Party at the Republican National Committee
Ascendancy, replies Gentry. He believes that most Americans today are less about their party label and more about finding the best policies to make their lives better. He feels that each party must be genuine with the American people. For instance, Gentry does not think ObamaCare has been effective at lowering high medical costs, thus Democrats should not declare victory on ObamaCare because it “just doesn’t ring true to people.”
The Ideas Party
“I think the Republican Party needs to become, number one, the ideas party, which it exclusively can be. Number two, it needs to be the party that articulates fearlessly and consistently how those ideas get every American to a better future.”Gentry Collins
In cycles where Republicans have failed to be “the ideas party” and articulate those ideas clearly, they have lost elections, Gentry argues. For instance, Republicans told the country they would repeal and replace ObamaCare in this most recent cycle, and they were given the House and Senate. Yet, they failed to implement these policies and thus lost their majorities.
Our culture has increasingly become about governing ourselves, making decisions ourselves, self-empowerment. Those are limited-government, conservative ideas. Those are not big, centralized, federalist ideas.”Gentry Collins on the ideas Conservatives ought to run on
The Younger Demographic
“The behaviors, the attitudes that define millennial culture today, I think are fundamentally incompatible with a party and an ideology that believes Washinton can run your life better than you can run it yourself.”Gentry Collins on Millennials tendency towards independence and self-governance
On the College Campus
“I had a wonderful experience on campus at USC for the semester. Exclusively positive interactions with students. Enormously impressed with the university, with the students, and beyond.”Gentry Collins on his experience at the University of Southern California teaching a class titled “The Future of the Republican Party.”
Gentry explains that the ideology of intersectionality, which is the idea that race, gender, sexual orientation, and other identity groups define a person’s advantage or disadvantage in a society, is thoroughly engrained in students’ minds.
How the Country Feels
“I think the country has been convinced, rightly, over the last decades or centuries, that race, gender, and orientation are not qualifiers and they are not disqualifiers. They are not what define us, and they shouldn’t be what define our politics. I think to the extent that the Democratic Party is offering that as its principle offering, they’re going to lose a hell of a lot of elections.”Gentry Collins on identity politics within the Democratic Party
“Fundamentally what I expect as an American is that if you work hard and you play by the rules tomorrow is going to be better than yesterday.”Gentry Collins
“I think we’re in one of the most exciting times in modern American politics that I can I think of. The country is looking for something it’s not getting…the country is looking for something else, and if you can be that change in a positive, ascendant, embraceable way, you’ve got a future in politics.”Gentry Collins
Bills with Luke Scorziell does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice or recommendations. This material is solely intended for educational purposes based on publicly available information and may change at any time. Additionally, this article’s content is a summary of the Interviewee’s comments and, while rephrased by the Author, are not from the Author himself.
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About Luke Scorziell
Mr. Scorziell created The Edge of Ideas when he was 15 years old. After a few years of blogging he found a passion for podcasting and now regularly has guests on his show, Bills with Luke Scorziell. He is currently a journalism student at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for COmmunications and Journalism. Find out more about Luke and his unique journey. Feel free to send Luke a message below.
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