Time for a New Pledge?
Earnest or not, a pledge could be the way to win
Illustration by Peter Noonan
Given the dramatic swings back and forth in recent New Hampshire elections between Republicans and Democrats, you might think voters here are generally confused or just dislike incumbents when it comes to voting in elections. But Granite Staters are far from confused and know what they want. It’s just that neither party is philosophically catering to them.
Most of the New Hampshire electorate accepts the Libertarian mentality spelled out in the state’s Live Free or Die motto. These voters want government out of their wallets and out of their bedrooms. Republicans agree about the wallet part, but not the bedroom part. Democrats disagree on the wallet part, but agree on the bedroom part.
If candidates in an election are talking about taxes or government spending, Republicans generally win. If they are talking about anything else — abortion, gay rights, foreign wars — Democrats win.
In 2006, for example, the election was dominated by negative feelings toward Republican President George W. Bush, including his handling of the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina. New Hampshire Democrats won more offices than they had since the 1870s.
Six years later, in 2010, Republicans convinced voters that Democratic President Barack Obama and Democrats in Concord were raising too many taxes and spending too much money. That year state Republicans knocked off more incumbent Democrats than any other state in the country.
But there has been one constant: Since 1996 Democrats have won eight of the last nine races for governor. All but two of those times the Democratic candidate took the so-called “pledge” to veto any attempt to establish a state income tax or sales tax.
The pledge was originally a Republican tool for defining Democrats as tax-and-spend liberals but over the years it has become a gift to Democrats. Once they take the pledge it moves taxes and government spending off the table and social issues tend to get discussed more.
When the electorate is discussing abortion or gay marriage New Hampshire swing voters side with Democrats.
This is why Republicans need to start a new pledge. This one would state something like “I pledge to veto any attempt to repeal any attempt to restrict a woman’s right to choose or anyone’s right to marry.”
Today, such a pledge would not have a lot of Republican signers. The only prominent Republican who would agree on both counts is former Congressman Charlie Bass and after losing in 2012 Bass says he is done with politics. At first this pledge would do more harm to Republicans than good, but over time it could also become a gift. If Republicans could take social issues off the table then it would force Democrats into a deeper conversation about taxes and government spending.
These days your average Republican is less pragmatic than your average Democrat. After all, a good chunk of Democrats want an income tax or at least want a conversation about it but that doesn’t stop them from consistently choosing candidates who take the pledge — because they can win.
Eventually if Republicans keep losing the governorship, they will begin to get more practical also.