- - Friday, October 21, 2016

Now that the third and final presidential debate is behind us, Donald Trump has 18 days left to make a closing argument that will make up lost ground and catapult him past Hillary Clinton in the key battleground states. Early this week, he declared it was past time to “drain the swamp” that is Washington, D.C., and announced that in addition to lobbying reform, he would use the bully pulpit of the presidency to push for a Constitutional Amendment to impose term limits on members of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. In doing so, he may have come across the issue that can put him in the White House.

Speaking at a rally in Colorado on Tuesday, Trump declared, “If I’m elected president, I will push for a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress. They’ve been talking about that for years. Decades of failure in Washington and decades of special interest dealing must and will come to an end.”

In calling for term limits for members of Congress, Trump becomes the first major party nominee in memory to raise the issue in a general election. As popular as the issue has been since first gaining national prominence in the early 1990s, no GOP nominee ever made it a central plank of his platform, and for good reason - it simply wouldn’t have been credible.

Think about it - would anyone have believed that Robert Dole (first elected to the Congress in 1960, 36 years before he served as the GOP nominee in 1996), or George W. Bush (son of a president, grandson of a U.S. Senator), John McCain (first elected to the Congress in 1982, 26 years before serving as the GOP nominee in 2008) or even Mitt Romney (who ran his first race for the U.S. Senate 18 years before running for president) really believed that term limits could be part of the solution to what ails Washington? These men weren’t part of the solution, they were part of the problem, and no one would have thought it credible for any of them to make a case for term limits.

But Donald J. Trump? Trump hasn’t served a day in public office. As we’ve all become aware, he’s never even run for political office before. Consequently, he is the perfect outsider candidate to channel the term limits message.

And a powerful message it is.

Last year, as Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund was researching the issues we wanted to focus on during this important election cycle, we conducted public opinion surveys to test the depth of support for various alternatives. Public support for term limits was near the very top of the list, with close to 80 percent support across all partisan and ideological lines. Among Republicans and conservatives, not surprisingly, support for term limits was over 90 percent; but even among Democrats and liberals, support for term limits was greater than 70 percent.

Clearly, term limits has the potential to be the kind of issue that cuts across party lines and pulls voters toward Trump as the agent of change in a change election.

We know that more than two-thirds of our fellow citizens believe our nation is headed in the wrong direction. They know that our government has lost touch with the people it is meant to serve. They know that we cannot get back on the right track unless we make major changes, and that we cannot make major changes to Washington without making major changes to the people in Washington.

And why are term limits necessary? Because without them, it’s just about impossible to change the people who represent us in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.

Consider: even in the massive “wave” elections of 2010 and 2014, where Republicans first flipped more than 60 seats to capture the House, and then flipped nine seats to take control of the Senate, it was still the case that more than 80 percent of incumbents who ran for reelection won their races. And in regular years, when no wave develops, that number shoots upward of 95 percent in the U.S. House.

Members of the House were deliberately given terms of just two years so that they would be in close touch with their constituents. Never more than two years away from a chance to be tossed out, Representatives would be forced to pay respect to their constituents’ wishes. But with sophisticated gerrymandering and all the other advantages of incumbency, it’s virtually impossible to defeat an incumbent running for reelection, and, as a result, the House has become the branch of government least in touch with the people, thereby subverting the intent of our Founders.

Term limits can change that.

But given that any Constitutional amendment needs massive support from politicians, and given that politicians are loath to give up power, passing a Constitutional amendment imposing term limits on Congress would likely only happen as the result of a major national campaign that generates the kind of constituent pressure on Congress that only happens on rare occasions - in other words, something like a presidential campaign.

More often than not, good policy makes for good politics. In introducing this new issue, even at this late date in the campaign, Donald Trump may have just found his ticket to the White House. Will he recognize it in time and ride the issue hard? Time will tell.

Jenny Beth Martin is Chairman of Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, the SuperPAC associated with the largest national Tea Party group in the country.

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