The GOP's Referendum Strategy

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JONATHAN CHAIT JULY 19, 2010

The GOP's Referendum Strategy

The Republican Party is having an internal debate over whether, or to what degree, it should make public its policy agenda:

Sometime after Labor Day, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner plans to unveil a blueprint of what Republicans will do if they take back control of the chamber. He promises it will be a full plate of policy proposals that will give voters a clear sense of how they would govern.

But will Republicans actually want to run on those ideas -- or any ideas? Behind the scenes, many are being urged to ignore the leaders and do just the opposite: avoid issues at all costs. Some of the party's most influential political consultants are quietly counseling their clients to stay on the offensive for the November midterm elections and steer clear of taking stands on substance that might give Democratic opponents material for a counterattack.

"The smart political approach would be to make the election about the Democrats," said Neil Newhouse of the powerhouse Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, which is advising more than 50 House and Senate candidates. "In terms of our individual campaigns, I don't think it does a great deal of good" to engage in a debate over the Republicans' own agenda.

The background here is that, for all the heat the Democratic party has taken since taking control of government, it's still more popular than the Republican Party. Moreover, the central item of the Republican agenda remains upper-bracket tax cuts, which remain extremely unpopular. The referendum strategy seems like the pretty obvious call. And, to be sure, with Obama in the middle of his term, it's not like Republicans could implement their strategy anyway. Still, none of these things are going to stop Republicans from claiming a mandate if they win the House, nor will it keep the mainstream press from insisting that Democrats lost because they strayed too far from the center.

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posted in: jonathan chait, labor day, democratic party, republican party, senate, john a. boehner, neil newhouse

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