Time for the quadrennial "should the GOP issue a new Contract With America?" debate

You know there’s a midterm election on the way when Beltway Republicans start navel-gazing about whether they should cobble together a new platform that virtually no one expects them to take seriously if they win, let alone to actually fulfill. We went through this in 2010 too, with the same pros and cons on each side. If the GOP publishes a new agenda, it’ll prove to voters that they’re “serious” about governance but it’ll also hand Democrats a target to attack in lieu of defending Obama’s failures. If they don’t publish an agenda, Democrats will have nothing to demagogue but the GOP will also have nothing with which to entice fencesitters into turning out for them in the fall. It’ll affirm that they’re the “party of no,” bereft of ideas — which is not to say that they still won’t win big.

Actually, recycling Newt’s killer campaign gimmick from 20 years ago is itself evidence of a dearth of ideas, no?

“I think it’s a strategic mistake for our party leadership not to come up with a document that has four or five action items,” [Lindsey] Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the House class of 1994, said in an interview. “I’ve tried to allow those in leadership to do this. If they don’t move forward soon, there will be a rebellion among the rank and file.”

But the idea has met a cool reception from other senators, including some in leadership such as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who faces a tough reelection race this year. Skeptics say it would be difficult to unite ideologically diverse candidates around a uniform set of ideas and argue the plan would give Democrats a fat target to attack. Better, they say, to keep the focus squarely on the shortcomings of President Barack Obama and his party than to make promises Republicans might not be able to keep.

“Even if we have a good election, President Obama is still going to be president,” Sen. John Cornyn, the minority whip from Texas, said when asked if his party should unveil a Contract with America-style agenda this year. “I don’t think we should be in the business of overpromising.”…

“It would be valuable for us to be outlining how different the Congress would be,” said Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “And I would start with just the broad, not just partisan Republican issues, I would start on how the Senate would work differently.”

Four years ago, they started drafting a new “Contract With America” in the spring and eventually ended up with the “Pledge to America,” whose name I’d forgotten so thoroughly that I had to google to remind myself. Here’s the document. Among their pledges was protecting the Bush tax cuts (failed), repealing ObamaCare (failed), and ensuring that every bill is posted online three days before a vote (in reality, the House has been to known to ram through legislation favored by leadership with fraudulent voice votes). If they were to float a realistic agenda this time, what would it conceivably look like knowing that Obama will still be there in 2015 and 2016 wielding his veto pen? Tax reform, maybe? The only big-ticket policy item I can envision a major compromise on is immigration reform, and needless to say, that’s not something the party would want to showcase in Contract With America 12.0. So if they do come up with something, it’s destined to be the same broad rehash of conservative principles as, well, this — lower spending, lower taxes, a strong national defense, family values. Does the party really need a formal document reminding people of that by now?

If they adopt Mike Lee’s agenda and throw the weight of the GOP behind it, I’ll take an interest. Not before then. In the meantime, watch this — the “preamble” to the “Pledge to America” — and remind yourself that the absolute top priority this year for the party that produced it is amnesty. That’s how seriously you should take these things.