GOP Strategist Finds Seeds of Party's Dominance in History By Mike Field For William Kristol, the election of '94 may well prove to be the long-predicted realigning election marking the end of 60 years of Democratic party dominance at the national level. Dr. Kristol, the former chief of staff to Dan Quayle and now chairman of the Project for the Republican Future--a Washington- based independent political organization--made his remarks before a group of about 40 undergraduates, faculty and alumni at the Rome Building on the Washington campus. The lecture was part of a series of six presented by the Washington Center for the Study of American Government, a program of the Department of Political Science, directed by Benjamin Ginsberg. Dr. Kristol, who earned his doctoral degree in government at Harvard, is widely recognized for helping create the Republican "Contract with America," a key strategy in the GOP's stunning midterm sweep of both houses of Congress. "What we are seeing is the final collapse of the New Deal/Great Society coalition," Dr. Kristol said. "It is an era that has been coming to an end for a while, starting with Nixon's landslide re-election in 1972." Noting that the 1992 Bush/Quayle candidacy offered all prognosticators "a lesson in humility," Dr. Kristol nonetheless pointed to several indicators that he believes suggest the realignment to a Republican majority among voters has come about. "For the first time in 60 years there's a rough parity between parties with the Republicans holding a slight edge," he said. "For instance, there are now 30 states with Republican governors, representing something like 70 percent of the total population. Before election day, Democrats controlled two-thirds of the state legislative chambers; now Republicans control a majority of those bodies." The past election not only put record numbers of new Republicans in office, it also demonstrated two characteristics typical of realignment elections, he said. "This race was extremely partisan, with every national Republican candidate winning re-election, this despite the perceived wisdom that the voters were in the mood to throw all incumbents out, regardless of party affiliation," he said. "In that respect, the results are closely similar to the partisan landslide of 1890. "I would also say it was perhaps the most ideological off-year election in our lifetimes. The "Contract with America" presented a clear platform that was very issues-oriented. Even if people didn't know all of what was within the contract, they understood the general ideas and had a clear platform they could vote for or against." Because the economy was robust and there was no imminent foreign policy crisis, the election was unprecedented, Dr. Kristol said, in its significance as a nationwide public referendum. "It was a pure vote on, Do you like Clinton and the direction the Democratic leadership is taking America? Clearly, the answer was that they were not satisfied." Although the Democratic party's predominance appears to have collapsed, Dr. Kristol warned against assuming that the Republicans will now occupy that role. "I really do think it's the end of an era, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's the beginning of Republican dominance," he said. "We could enter into a period of small majorities where power swings back and forth between the two parties, or a third party could become important. The Republican Party's ability to turn this election into a long-term national realignment in their favor will depend on if they can govern successfully and lay the groundwork for further advances." Judging from historical patterns, that pos-sibility seems likely. "The last time there was a national realignment was in the 1930s," said Dr. Kristol. "The Republican Party had dominated Congress and the presidency since the election of 1896. But in 1930, a crisis year owing to the Great Depression, the Democrats picked up eight Senate seats and 53 House seats, bringing them in approximate parity with the Republicans." Roosevelt's election two years later brought a landslide of Democratic legislators at a state and national level, including 12 more U.S. senators and 97 more seats in the House. Those gains were further consolidated and expanded in 1934--an unprecedented accomplishment in an off-year election--and again in 1936 when Roosevelt ran for his second term. From being the minority party in both houses in 1930, by March of 1937 the Democrats controlled 76 Senate seats (out of a total of only 96) and led in the House by a majority of three and a half to one. "All this occurred within the span of eight years," Dr. Kristol said. "When these realignments happen, they happen very fast. The question then becomes, Could the Republicans realign the current Congress in the same way? There are plenty of vulnerable Democrats in '96, and all safe betting is that the Republicans are going to increase their numbers. It's conceivable there will be a big majority of Republicans in both houses by the end of the decade." Key to achieving that transformation will be the Republicans' ability to demonstrate things are really changing and key to that change will be welfare reform, said Dr. Kristol. "Welfare reform is probably the Republicans' No. 1 issue, equivalent to what health care reform was to Democrats two years ago," he said. "Welfare is widely perceived as promoting welfare dependency and illegitimacy, and this will need to be addressed in a meaningful way." "Republicans will only need to show they have started down the road toward a new, conservative revolution and that to keep in that direction people will need to stick with the party. That will be enough."
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