It’s not 1993

IT’S NOT 1993…. Congressional Republicans, hoping to find a way back to the comeback trail, have apparently focused their attention on the last time Democrats controlled the White House, Senate, and House. This includes taking direction from Newt Gingrich, but as Jeanne Cummings noted in a good piece today, it goes further than that.

Republicans are hatching a political comeback by dusting off a strategic playbook written nearly two decades ago.

Its themes: Unite against Democrats’ economic policy, block and counter health care reform and tar them with spending scandals.

Those represent the political trifecta that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich bet on in 1994 to produce a historic Republican takeover of Congress.

Now, some Republicans believe President Barack Obama’s one-two push on the economy and health care reform is setting the stage for a new round of significant gains, if not a total takeover.

We’ll see, of course, whether this strategy has merit, but I’m skeptical. Cummings did a nice job highlighting some of the reasons 2009 bears little resemblance to 1993, and why the differences matter when hoping to apply the old strategy to a new political landscape.

Indeed, the similarities are easily outnumbered. There were, in both instances, young and dynamic Democratic presidents, but Barack Obama enjoys broader and deeper support than Bill Clinton did at this stage, and unlike Clinton, Obama won a healthy electoral majority in the popular vote. For that matter, just as Republicans hope to capitalize on the GOP gains of the early ’90s, Obama has assembled a team that also learned lessons from the same era.

Also note the kind of Democratic majorities from each period. By June 1993, Clinton saw a Democratic caucus in the Senate with 55 members, two of whom not only opposed most of Clinton’s agenda, but would also soon leave the party altogether. Obama, in contrast, has a caucus with 58 (with Minnesota, 59) members.

But putting aside the numbers, what Gingrich’s modern acolytes probably don’t realize is that theirs is a party in decline. In 1992, Clinton won, but it was Republicans who made gains in House and gubernatorial elections. 2008 couldn’t have been more distinct — the GOP suffered electoral humiliation at nearly every level, saw its numbers plunge to their lowest point in decades, and effectively became a regional party. The early ’90s were a period of Republican ascendency. That’s long gone.

Making matters even worse, the agenda Republicans are fighting — most notably, on economics and healthcare reform — enjoys strong support nationally. In a battle of ideas, the GOP is shooting blanks.

Stan Greenberg noted, “We are in a different game, and they are playing by the old rules.”

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.