The Campaign Continues: How Political Consultants and Campaign Tactics Affect Public Policy

By Douglas A. Lathrop | Go to book overview

5

The Contract with America: Marketing the Revolution

During the first heady days of the 104th Congress, Speaker Newt Gingrich occasionally allowed his excitement at the prospects of a Republican legislative revolution to get the better of him. In these moments, he was given to making grandiose historical comparisons and hyperbolic comments about the significance of the 1994 election. 1 He likened himself, for example, to British prime ministers of the nineteenth century, perhaps forgetting for a moment that we live in a federal system of separated powers. In interviews and press conferences, he tirelessly compared the Republican takeover of Congress to other landmark events in American history.

When Gingrich's statements are viewed in retrospect, they seem either poignant or outrageous, depending on your political persuasion. Given the fact that most of the Contract with America, the legislative agenda the Republicans rode to victory in the House of Representatives, was not signed into law and that, by 1999, Newt Gingrich was no longer even a member of the House, it seems unlikely that historians will place the 104th Congress in the category reserved for epochs like Reconstruction or the New Deal. Yet the Republican victory in 1994 and the party's initial legislative successes are important from a political science perspective. The Contract with America is an unprecedented example of a nationalized congressional party platform that ran counter to much of the academic discussion of congressional electoral behavior. 2 Moreover, the Contract demonstrated a concerted effort on the part of the congressional majority to wrest control of the political agenda from the president. Since FDR, the theme running through scholarly analyses of executive-legislative relations has focused on presidential dominance. According to political scientist Richard Fleisher, “The 104th Congress has shown us that the conventional wisdom that Congress is dependent on leadership from the president is overstated.” 3

Another characteristic that made the Contract with America unique and truly significant is the role political consultants played throughout its transformation

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