In 1994, the Republicans captured Congress for the first time since the Eisenhower Administration. On top of this, they had won five of seven presidential elections. A dozen years later, they lost power to the Democrats. Additionally, an unqualified and inexperienced Chicago machine politician managed to win the presidency in 2008. A combination of factors doomed the party. A series of scandals, congressional overspending, lack of communication, and a revolt from the base over immigration reform led to the Democratic resurgence.
Scandal helped the Democrats lose Congress in 1994. The party managed to escape voter judgment for a generation over scandals ranging from check kiting to the House Post Office to rape. However, they eventually paid for their behavior and entered the wilderness for a dozen years. In 2006, the Republicans experienced a number of major scandals helping doom the off-year campaign. Congressman Duke Cunningham accepted $2.3 million in bribes from defense contractors. Lobbyist Jack Abramoff over-billed his clients and even worked against their interests to squeeze more fees out of them. Representative Mark Foley admitted to an illicit relationship with a 16-year-old boy. In the end, the Democrats regained control of both houses of congress and waited for the presidential election to strike.
The Democrats needed to avoid controversy and allow the Republicans to implode. Federal spending exploded in the Bush years. Although some blame tax policy, spending caused the ballooning deficit. Once again, the Republicans became Democrats. Progressives do not worry about massive deficits, but used it as a campaign issue in 2008. Bill Clinton left office with a budget surplus thanks to the Republican congress. Without Clinton, the Republicans felt compelled to follow Bush policies. Increased spending, an economic downturn in 2000, and two wars made balancing the budget impossible. The Bush deficits exceeded $400 billion by 2008. Later, President Obama decided to triple the amount.
As a result of scandal and spending, the Republicans could no longer distinguish themselves from the Democrats. This helped cripple the party message. Additionally, the Bush White House failed to counter leftist charges. Liberals argued Bush lied about the Iraq War and hurled poisonous and hateful insults against the president. The White House responded with silence. As a result, the left controlled the narrative and continue to write it.
The conservative base helped the Democrats brand Republicans. President Bush hoped to capture the Hispanic vote for a generation. When he offered his version of the dream act, conservatives cried foul. They argued the president was granting amnesty and rewarding criminal behavior. The noise collapsed the initiative and scared Latino voters. In 2012, Obama used fear tactics to capture over 70% of their votes.
In late 2007, the country entered a recession based on Clinton era deregulation and housing policies. In September 2008, the economy collapsed leading to the election of a first term senator from Illinois. Obama created a cult of personality allowing people to paint whatever they wished onto his canvas. This cult helped his re-election. Obama also railed against G.O.P. spending, scandals, Bush policies, and campaigned to “kill Romney.” He ran the dirtiest campaign since 1828 and won. However, Republican weaknesses combined with an unusually large number of uninformed voters led to his victory. A stronger Republican Party would have defeated Obama.
The Republicans ruined their own legacy. In 1994, they rode into Washington promising reforms, including a balanced budget and welfare reform. They achieved their goals, but later lost their way. The institutional power corrupted the party the same way it corrupted the Democrats. Scandal, overspending, communication problems, and hostility to immigration reform led to their downfall. However, politics is cyclical and a fresh, charismatic individual with the ability to explain his principles through the media filter could negate Democratic gains over the last decade.