NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How Republicans Stopped Being Doormats

November 18, 2002

As Democrats ponder a period in which they are likely to be out of power in Washington for some years, a few are looking to the Republicans for ideas on how to rejuvenate their party.

First, it might be useful to learn how and why the Republicans became the doormat of politics for so many years.

  • It began when Dwight Eisenhower fundamentally shifted Republican economic policy away from tax cuts -- where it had been since the 1920s -- and made balancing the budget its central plank.
  • Eisenhower squashed every congressional effort to cut taxes, saying that balancing the budget had to come first.
  • Thus the high World War II tax rates were kept in place until Democrat John F. Kennedy came along and Americans finally got tax relief.
  • In 1976, however, Republicans were forced to rethink their approach after losing the White House and having just 143 Republicans in the House and 38 in the Senate.

At this point, Jack Kemp revived tax-cutting as Republican economic policy. Ronald Reagan ran on a tax cut in 1980 and gave Republicans control of the Senate for the first time in a generation.

George H.W. Bush foolishly thought that raising taxes was the responsible thing to do, and was punished by voters who supported Democrat Bill Clinton -- who promised a middle class tax cut.

Fortunately for Republicans, Clinton immediately abandoned his tax cut and instead pushed a tax increase. This led to the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 -- on tax cuts. George W. Bush wisely ran on a tax cut in 2000, got it, and was rewarded this year.

Democrats now have become Eisenhower Republicans -- opposing tax cuts and demanding fiscal responsibility. Perhaps it will be as successful for them as it was for Republicans.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, November 18, 2002


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