The Term Limits Movement Is Alive and Politically Potent
The power of incumbency in politics used to be near absolute at the congressional level. Once elected, the job was, in a sense, yours for life. That was true until 1994.
It was then that House Speaker Tom Foley was put out to the political pasture. This was earthshaking news at the time, realistically the first of its kind since the Civil War. If incumbency brought with it a near-lifetime sinecure, surely the Speaker of the House was thoroughly bulletproof.
Thankfully, a then-nascent organization by the name of U.S. Term Limits didn’t agree. Rather than accept the status quo, U.S. Term Limits made Foley a target. They zeroed in on Foley’s disdain for term limits and ran ads in Foley’s district that vivified his contempt.
Foley’s loss was once again a major shock. More importantly, it was a sign that the Term Limits movement had arrived, and that it would be a force to be reckoned with. Indeed, twenty years later, term-limit signing challenger Dave Brat pulled off yet another earthshaking upset, this time of House Minority Leader Eric Cantor. Cantor, like Foley, similarly turned his nose up to the term-limits pledge.
What was true in 1994 and 2014 promises to reveal itself as true once again in 2024. Put another way, any rumors of the death of the term limits movement are and were very much exaggerated. What felled powerful political figures back in the 1990s continues to carry with it impressive (and well-funded) political weight in the 2020s.
Consider what happened in Iowa’s 3rd District in 2022. At the time, the super PAC Term Limits Action (TLA) ran television ads against incumbent Democrat Cindy Axne for refusing to sign a term limits pledge favoring a constitutional amendment. Unfortunately for Axne, her opponent Zach Nunn did. Axne subsequently lost to Nunn in the general election.
This past summer, TLA once again threw its weight around. Armed with ads saying “politicians and diapers must be changed often and for the same reason,” the PAC ran multiple weeks of ads against Rep. Claudia Tenney (NY-24), Rep. Young Kim (CA-40), and Rep. Derrick Van Orden (WI-3). Notable about TLA is that it’s not limiting its spending to districts populated by Republicans more favorable to limiting time in Washington. In 2022, TLA showered Rep. Henry Cuellar’s district with a substantial amount of television ads as payback for his own failure to sign a term limits pledge.
All of which brings us back to the future with U.S. Term Limits. It, too, continues to make its presence known. This year USTL has put up billboards in over twelve districts that have called out candidates for their refusal to connect their signatures to constitutional limits on time served.
The actions of TLA and USTL aren’t just crucial, they’re also highly relevant to the moment we’re in. Think about it with Hunter Biden in mind. More than a few voters are troubled by the revelations about President Biden’s son, but it’s worth stressing that their concern is over symptoms (Hunter Biden) as opposed to the real problem. The simple truth is that Hunter Biden is a logical consequence of politicians serving without endpoint as Joe Biden has. Translated, so long as politicians make it a career, so will their friends and family members make a career out of savvy with the ways of Washington.
This is why the term limits movement’s vitality isn’t just important; it’s also the only way to limit more scandals of the Hunter Biden variety. In which case, we should be glad that Term Limit Action and U.S. Term Limits aren’t just still around, but around with copious funding. Readers will feel this in 2024 and beyond.
This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.