Presidential political strategists find that the road to victory often stems from establishing tactics based on successful past paradigm results.
When the Tea Party was given credit for helping Republicans score dramatic gains in the 2010 midterm elections that included winning control of the House of Representatives, many Washington watchers recognized that the way the victory was achieved was reminiscent of what happened in 1994 in the middle of President Bill Clinton's first term.
The shattering victory of the Republicans caused Clinton to initially experience crushing depression according to many on the D.C. presidential watch. Meanwhile Republicans chortled at the prospect of winning the presidency in 1996. There were many independent observers not influenced by GOP euphoria who also believed that the tide was running so strong that it would be difficult for Clinton and the Democrats to surmount it.
An important factor that the 1994 and 2010 Republican victories have in common is the ideological composition of the new faces on the Washington scene and how they would impact on the upcoming presidential races. In 1994 House Speaker Newt Gingrich had in his ranks a group of incoming rightist ideologues.
After the wave of gloom passed from the sweeping 1994 defeat, strategist Clinton used Gingrich and the angry rightist forces in his ranks as foil. He used the government shutdown to make the case to the American people that the Republicans should not be trusted with the executive branch of government.
Clinton sought to push Republicans away from the center ground where presidential elections are won and lost and onto a far right position outside the mainstream where most Americans reside. The coup de grace came with the triangulation strategy devised by then White House strategist and current Fox commentator Dick Morris. The idea was simple -- you seek out positions embraced by middle America and incorporate them as your own, even if they were being articulated by Republicans.
The result was an easy victory for Clinton in the 1996 election over Republican nominee Robert Dole. In fact, the election was a foregone conclusion from the major party conventions onward, so much so that certain voters, fearing a mammoth Clinton landslide and the political hubris that could result, opted to vote for Dole as a cautionary check.
Barack Obama realizes that he has an historic opportunity in 2012 comparable to Clinton's in 1996. While Clinton used Gingrich as a Republican symbol as a means of heightening victory opportunity, Obama fired a preemptive shot across the bow at House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. Mindful of the strong influence the Tea Party holds over House and Senate members based on the past election cycle, the previously passive, coolly reflective Obama was replaced by a tough talking tactician seeking to hold the opposition accountable for abandoning America's middle class.
Obama took a solid hit from progressives for accepting what he termed a compromise budget agreement with Republicans that included extending the controversial Bush tax cuts that largely benefited America's wealthiest citizens. After this happened many predicted that he would be even more inclined to extend those cuts during the 2012 election year, fearing a Republican propaganda broadside if he did not.
Instead Obama is currently pursuing the strategy that progressives within his party urged on him initially. They argued that a strong case could be made over the destructive impact such cuts had generated in the past and would continue to do so in the future. The thrust would be emphasizing the damage that the cuts did to the middle class.
Embraced now in that argument is the issue of the future of Medicare. The voucher system that Ryan proposes in his budget recommendation is perceived as a way to end Medicare and cause grave hardship for seniors while opting for a system that would put more dollars into the coffers of mega rich corporate providers.
If Obama plays his hand correctly, a landside reelection victory could be the result. Another historic election also beckons as an instructive example. A nascent uprising from the Republican right aided by the John Birch Society, a rightist pressure force comparable to the Tea Party of today, enabled Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona to achieve the Republican presidential nomination. It came after a rancorous and divisive primary battle with Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York, leader of the party's progressive eastern wing.
Lyndon Johnson successfully labeled Goldwater and his party as extremist and outside the nation's mainstream. The result was the most whopping presidential landslide since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1936 triumph over Governor Alf M. Landon of Kansas.