Yes, “A Pledge to America,” by a coalition of Republicans, may help the GOP make a serious play for both houses of Congress in this fall’s midterm elections. Yet if you read the language of the 21-page pledge, you will see a lot of good ideas (including many hijacked from the Tea Party movement that establishment Republicans such as Karl Rove have abhorred) and a lot of finger-pointing at the Democrats for failed leadership over the past two congressional terms, but ultimately it is a document that means more for the fall elections than for November 2012.
The pledge speaks directly to the likely voters whom Republicans are counting on coming out in force to win key seats in the upcoming elections, including gubernatorial races in more than two dozen states. However, it does not have much to offer the 2008 Obama voter, the bloc of Americans who made the difference in giving President Obama the White House and putting Democrats in power in the first place.
And that is a problem — for America and for the GOP beyond this election. As long as Republican rhetoric does not make sense to an electorate that is getting younger (e.g., in both 2004 and 2008, more voters from the Millennial Generation participated in elections than did voters 60 and older), Republicans will never gain enough momentum to make the sweeping changes needed to return government to its proper restrained role in our lives.
The announcement this week was a grand opportunity for the Republican brain trust behind the pledge to speak to new segments of American and widen the Republican voting base. It was a chance to actually offer solutions that address the problems in America that aid and abet big government: entitlement programs and spending on poverty, education and other urban issues that don’t set goals or bypass status quo bureaucracies. Instead, Republicans played it safe and took the path of least resistance — and timid leadership — by sticking to their base and echoing the statements heard at thousands of Tea Party rallies around the nation since 2009, from complaints about domestic trials for terrorists to rolling back Obamacare.
The pledge contains common-sense ideas that, if implemented, could make the United States more economically buoyant over the next few years. Sadly, though, the pledge does not make sense for the voting base that is gaining real influence through its growing numbers within the American population and from new media. The opportunity to show why lower taxes, the rollback of Obama’s health-care plan and other initiatives highlighted in the pledge matter to Millennials, minorities and urban Americans was missed once again in a fog of denial that suggests some Republicans do believe that “taking back America” means taking the nation back in time.
The failure to reach out effectively to a changing America reflects the ongoing culture war between establishment Republicans who refuse to diversify the party and acknowledge change, and the new-school Republicans (including beleaguered RNC Chairman Michael Steele) who understand the need to hone a message for a wider range of voters without modifying the principles.
The attempt by establishment Republicans (including the recent Karl Rove criticism of Christine O’Donnell) to cannibalize Tea Party candidates reflects an unfortunate decision by Republican congressional leadership: They have chosen to ride the aging horse of 1994 to victory in 2010, using the saddle of the Tea Party movement, instead of picking a Thoroughbred that could carry all Americans past these troubled times.
The strategy should be safe enough to ensure wins in November, but it is not a long-term play for sorely needed, unifying national leadership. Republicans are hoping that wins in November and the pledge will position them well for a White House takeover in 2012. But as of right now, I wouldn’t bet on it, especially if they are unable to extend — instead of merely strengthening — their base.
Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and frequent contributor to The Root. He hosts the morning radio show Launching Chicago With Lenny McAllister on WVON, The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM. Follow him at Twitter and on Facebook.