Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 20, 1995

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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