How Republicans Can Get Their Groove Back Posted by: Jon Henke
on Thursday, February 02, 2006
I wrote this overview and analysis of the House Majority Leader Race just a couple days ago, hoping to get it placed where it might do some good. Unfortunately, with the vote today, it's too late to get it placed. (though, Red State was kind enough to front-page it) Still, I don't want it to go to waste, so if you're looking for a comprehensive analysis of the HML Race, why it's vital that the Republicans get it right, why Blunt would be a disaster, and why Shadegg should get the post, read on...
In 1994, “after four decades of one-party control”, Republicans finally found the key to Congress: the Contract with America promised “the end of government that is too big, too intrusive, and too easy with the public's money”. With a Democratic Congress both fiscally and ethically irresponsible, voters responded. For a time, the Republican majority was able to make progress – or at least to restrain the more rapacious urges of Leviathan with gridlock. A tenacious GOP Congress, a triangulating President and a surging tech-driven economy produced the most tolerably limited period of responsible governance in recent memory.
Newt Gingrich said, “[w]hen you're the minority, you need to fight. When you're the governing majority, you need to produce.” With a Democratic President Clinton between 1994 and 2000, the Revolutionaries had a raison d’etra – resistance justified their existence. But in 2001, with a Republican President, the Revolutionaries had to produce. Unfortunately, what they’ve produced has generally been the same fiscal and ethical irresponsibility that led up to 1994.
“The Republicans” wrote PJ O’Rourke, “are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it.” The stage is set for another revolution.
This time, however, the potential beneficiary of electoral dissatisfaction is not quite so clear. The Democratic Party has not produced an agenda similar to the Contract with America, and, in fact, cannot do so. They neither want to reduce taxes or limit government – they only promise to rule more efficiently. That platform may beat a wayward and corrupt Republican party, but it doesn’t capture the voter’s imaginations in quite the same way that the Contract with America did in 1994. What’s more, the public dissatisfaction is bipartisan, with Democrats almost as disliked as Republicans; and while, in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, a majority of voters (53%) disapproved of the way Congress was doing its job, 64% approved of the way their own representative was handling his or her job.
If the Democrats are to take advantage of this dissatisfaction, they need a clear opening – a public emblem of Republican failure. In the race for House Majority Leader, the Republicans may be giving them exactly that.
The current front-runner is Rep. Roy Blunt, who claims to be confident that he has the votes to win the position – though not, apparently, confident enough to give up his role as Majority Whip. His ascension seemed almost a fait accompli until January 19th, when all three candidates participated in conference calls with bloggers. While Blunt’s opponents, Shadegg and Boehner, were fairly well received by the bloggers, Roy Blunt was, to put it mildly, not. After the call, a virtually unanimous right side of the blogosphere rushed to ask why Tom DeLay was being replaced by what appeared to be an exact duplicate: a status quo Beltway Republican, the “House GOP's key liaison” to the “K Street Committee”, and owner of more than a few connections to the politically radioactive Jack Abramoff.
In a post that received widespread attention throughout the blogosphere, in newspapers, on Air America and on Capitol Hill, Dale Franks wrote…
I would rather lick fire ants off a stick than see Roy Blunt as Majority Leader. I'm not at the point of making a firm endorsement of either Reps. Shadegg or Boehner, but the sun will set in a blazing red sky to the east of Casablanca before I'd want Roy Blunt as Majority leader.
As if to emphasize his inability to change the culture in DC, Blunt’s response was issued by Blunt Spokesperson Jessica Boulanger, who was previously a Tom DeLay aide, and is currently married to a lobbyist who was a member of “Team Abramoff”.
Roy Blunt is exactly the hammer the Democrats need to solidify the legacy of the previous “Hammer”, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay – an observation that hasn’t escaped pundits. Matthew Yglesias called Blunt “about as close to a Tom DeLay clone as you can find” and said that a Democratic “corruption-based campaign will fit an attack on the Blunt-led House like a glove”.
It’s not just Democrats who would be alienated. By maintaining the status quo, Republicans also risk their base, which has grown increasingly disenchanted with the current Republican leadership. Brendan Miniter writes in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal that Blunt “is unable to deliver a sharp break from the DeLay policies of the past because he is a part of the DeLay machine that has run the House for the past couple of years” and that Blunt has “been a vocal champion of earmarks”.
What can the Republican Party do to both save their majority and rescue the revolution? One candidate in the House Majority Leader campaign offers a solution: Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona.
In addition to being a part of what he described as “the Revolutionary Class of '94”, John Shadegg is a member of the Republican Study Committee (“The Caucus of House Conservatives”) and on the Board of Advisors of the Republican Liberty Caucus (libertarian Republicans). James Joyner of Outside the Beltway placed Shadegg “in the Goldwater tradition of Arizona libertarian conservatives”, and his approval among influential right-of-center bloggers, pundits and conservative organizations has been almost unanimous. Among Shadegg’s supporters are prominent Congressmen like Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, Mike Pence, Charlie Bass and Jeff Flake, conservative publications like National Review and Townhall, and influential members of the blogosphere like Hugh Hewitt, Red State, Captain’s Quarters, Right Wing News and my own QandO blog.
So, why John Shadegg?
Ethically, Shadegg clearly stands out. He’s got substantially fewer ties to Abramoff and K Street lobbyists and, unlike Roy Blunt, Shadegg has stepped aside from his leadership post to pursue the Majority Leader position. Even his opponents focus on his policies and not his ethics. As Matthew Yglesias wrote, Shadegg would “be the hardest of the three to portray as a totally identical sleazeball”.
In ideals, Shadegg is a step above Rep. Boehner, and head and shoulders above Rep. Blunt. In a letter to Republican Congressmen he proposed “reform[ing] the earmark process and end[ing] secret backroom deals”; he has “endorsed changes limiting the ability of lawmakers to insert pet projects in spending bills”; he has proposed legislation to ensure that “[n]o elected official, including a Member of Congress, who takes a bribe should get a taxpayer-funded pension”; he has proposed a bill called “The Enumerated Powers Act”, which would require members of Congress “to identify in every bill they introduced, the provisions of the Constitution that authorized the Congress to legislate in that area”; he has argued that the “correct answer” to the problems presented by the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill would be to “suspend the application of the law, let us look at restructuring it”.
The consequence of the status quo will certainly be another revolution. Talking to Rep. Shadegg during the conference call, many bloggers came away with the impression that he “got it” – that he shared the dissatisfaction with the status quo – that he could bring about a return to the revolution. Indeed, Rep. Shadegg said…
I suppose a defense that some of my colleagues make is had we not been here, government would have grown faster; had we not been here it might have been even less open and clean than it is, but that's hardly a defense.
Of the three candidates for Republican House Majority Leader, only one candidate has sparked genuine interest – even excitement – among the fiscal conservatives and libertarians than make up the Republican base. That candidate is Rep. John Shadegg.
If House Republicans choose to ignore that interest – that spark of hope in an increasingly disenchanted base – they do so at their own great peril.
Well, the word is getting out through the blogsphere. In the last few days, I’ve seen the topic discussed on a dozen of the 2 dozen sites I visit. I think that’s pretty good for an internal party issue.
Word of mouth sells people on quite a number of things...
I’m sorry that, while this race is important and it matters to Congress and "the nation" — it doesn’t much matter to the voters.
Given the partisan attacks on Alito, the smears and attacks on any Rep leader will be nearly the same from the Leftist moonbats.
And the Rep base votes for two issues (from my 3-d analysis of Bush vs. Kerry): pro-Iraq Liberation (21 mil. vs. 21 mil) and pro-Morality ( 27 mil. vs 4 mil). The anti-tax cut big gov’t spending folks already do not vote Rep (8 mil. vs 30 mil.) (This was based on Pew exit polls, "what is most important issue")
It’s really unlikely that Rep voters who support the war, or who are pro-life, will reduce their voting based on any House Leader outcome, when they see the Dem alternative side by side.
I hope Shadegg wins; but even Boehner would be better. Why not have an "open convention" after the first ballot, with all three candidates still on the ballot for the second chance — to see who has the most "no promises" support?