The Contract with America was a set of promises that the Republican Party used during the midterm elections of 1994. The Contract is widely seen as having helped them take over control of the House of Representatives that year for the first time in over 50 years.
The basic ideas of the Contract were very much in line with conservative principles of the time. They included:
- Limiting government spending
- More of an emphasis on fighting crime
- Reduction in the availability of welfare to the poor
- A promise to remove American troops from any UN control
- Limitations on awards in lawsuits
- Incentives for small business growth
- Term limits for legislators
All of these things were closely aligned with ways in which conservatives were deeply concerned about the state of the US at that time. In general, conservatives believed that government had become too wasteful, especially on social programs and they felt that the US could be improved by more of a pro-business attitude.
Much of the well touted "Contract for America" sought to create a less interventionist role of government. This ideal was represented by much of the Republican leadership and filtered into the candidates selected to run in 1994. It sought to redefine government and change "the old ways." An example of this would be how the Republicans seized the changing climate in vilifying the corrupt practices of Chicago congressman Dan Rostenkowsi. An old time politician who believed in patronage to a fault, the Republicans advocated that transparency and accountability in government counters "the old ways of Washington politics," and they pointed to individuals like Rostenkowski and his role on the influential Ways and Means Committee as an example of the climate they wish to change. This traditionalist Republican approach, its drive to move the political dialogue to a more right or at least centrist position, helped to fuel the Contract for America and the umbrella it provided to many Republican candidates.
In line with conservative principles, to be sure, but not necessarily Republican ones. It's important not to confuse the two or think they are interchangeable. The Contract itself was a brilliant political play, simplifying the issues of the time into relatively basic ideas that most Americans would agree on. The party leadership held rallies where candidates would sign the Contract in front of red, white and blue bunting. It worked like a charm, sweeping them into control of Congress.
The Contract had some fine print, in that the party only promised to bring each item to a vote, knowing full well many if not most of the points could never pass both houses even with Republican control. Once the votes were defeated, they could blame the Democratic opposition and still say that they had fulfilled the Contract. So in essence, the contract reflected conservative ideals, but not necessarily those of the party. My Congressman was elected in 1994 and signed the Contract, pledging term limits. He's still in Congress today.