Top Videos
Related Topics
2008 Polls NationalIowaNew HampshireGeneral Election
GOP | DemGOP | DemGOP | DemHead-to-Head

Send to a Friend | Print Article

House GOP Needs Leadership Change

By Ryan Sager

Give House Republicans shuffling back to Capitol Hill this week some time. They're still in the first of the seven stages of grief over their departed majority: shock. Watch, however, where they are by 8 a.m. Friday, when it will be time for them to pick their new leaders -- most critically, a Republican (I know it's hard to say it, guys) minority leader.

If they're in denial about what happened last Tuesday, Republicans will stick with both of the men at the top of the team that just led them to a crushing defeat: Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the Republican whip. If they've made it to bargaining, they might keep one and ditch the other. But if they've worked all the way through their grief to anger, or even to acceptance, they'll realize what they need to do to take their first steps out of hell.

They need to cleanse themselves of the sulfuric stench of the DeLay years, the K Street lobbying culture and the failure of President Bush's big-government conservatism. And, to do so, they need to toss out both Boehner and Blunt in favor of the two men now running as Reaganite reformers: Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) for minority leader and Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) for whip.

If the GOP had held or lost the House by a narrow margin, there might be an argument for keeping the current team. They're experienced. They know how to move legislation. They're the Establishment.

But as the president said, the GOP took a thumpin'. Experience matters less now. The party doesn't get to move legislation. And the Republican Establishment is what the American people just tossed out on its ear.

It's time for Republicans to let go of their majority mindset and start thinking like a minority.

The job of the new Republican minority isn't to go along to get along. Its job is to articulate a renewed conservative message, to stand up to the new Democratic majority and, perhaps most crucially, to stand up to a president who has never been a true conservative and will now be more inclined toward compromise with liberalism than ever.

Boehner and Blunt are not the men for the job. Blunt is part of the DeLay machine from way back. Boehner, the man who once handed out checks from tobacco lobbyists on the House floor, is no reformer either. He won his leadership position at the beginning of this year, when he replaced Tom DeLay, by promising not to rock the boat.

It turns out the boat needed rocking. And not just in terms of the K Street coziness.

The GOP hasn't just allowed itself to become corrupt in the dollar-and-cents sense. It's also undergone a full-blown corruption of its ideas and ideals -- giving up on limited government and instead signing onto any scheme it thought would keep it in power.

The voters noticed. A survey by the conservative Club for Growth, taken in 15 battleground districts in the days before election, found that voters trusted the Democrats over the Republicans by a margin of 15 points to "eliminate wasteful spending." Asked which was the "party of big government," voters chose the GOP by a margin of 10 points.

In this area as well, Boehner and Blunt are hardly the men to right the ship. If there are any two votes in the last six years that should stand as a litmus test for a new generation of conservative leaders, those would be the roll calls on No Child Left Behind and the Medicare prescription-drug bill. Boehner and Blunt both voted for these big-government boondoggles. (Boehner, in fact, was in charge of larding up NCLB until Teddy Kennedy would swallow it.) Pence and Shadegg voted against both, in defiance of the Republican leadership and in the face of extreme pressure from the White House.

Likewise, on campaign-finance reform (another issue on which Republicans have gone native), Boehner and Blunt are unacceptable to true conservatives. While both took a principled stand against the egregious McCain-Feingold bill back in 2002, they abandoned their commitment to free speech earlier this year when they voted to expand campaign-finance regulations to cripple so-called 527 groups -- one of the last bastions of political speech untrammeled by Congress. Pence and Shadegg voted against both.

House Republicans need a strong voice at the top. Pence isn't perfect (he's voted for farm and highway bills laden with pork). But, on the big issues, he's voted like a real conservative. And as George W. Bush steered the party off course, Pence didn't wait until after a shocking electoral defeat to wake up and speak up -- he's been shouting at the top of his lungs since early 2004.

There's a battle to control the Republican Party -- the forces of K Street and stay-the-course are duking it out with a new generation that remembers the legacy of Reagan and Goldwater. If the GOP can't accept the message voters sent last Tuesday, one that's urging them to get back to basics, they're going to be grieving for a long time to come.

Ryan Sager ( is author of “The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party.”

Email Friend | Print | RSS | Add to | Add to Digg
Sponsored Links

Ryan Sager
Author Archive