The American people dealt the Republican Party a major setback Nov. 7th. What President Bush referred to as a “thumpin” resulted in Republicans losing a 30-seat majority in the House. Rather than selecting a Speaker in January, House Republicans will be selecting a minority leader. This can be a chance to regroup or it can be a choice of accommodation for the next generation. The spirit of renewal that animated the “Contract With America” should be the guide of House Republicans and John Boehner one of its early authors should be their choice.
Principled conservative Rep. John Boehner of Ohio is exactly the man for the job – he’s held party leadership posts, he’s been a chairman, and was an able activist backbencher in the minority.
It is true that a sizeable number of voters identified Iraq fatigue as a basis for their vote, but Republicans should also consider the role that corruption, excessive spending, and a sense that leaders no longer sought a reformist agenda played in weighing down the party. Winning back the majority in the House will not be easy but the alternative is far more bleak – House Republicans might have to settle for another 40 years wandering in the wilderness. It is clear they should act quickly to reassess and reform.
The obstacles to success cannot be overestimated. Over the 20th century control of the House has shifted back and forth roughly 10 times. But the numbers are misleading. Except for dominating at the beginning and the end of the century, Republicans have held control only for intermittent intervals. A combination of the power of incumbency, mainstream media advocacy and voter apathy partly explain the dominance of Democrats for much of the 20th century. More generally, the GOP allowed itself to be unfairly labeled as the party of elites and corporate America. Additionally, many leaders readily settled for dominance in the executive branch. But unless Republicans are reconciled to long-term minority status they should recognize that their first decision regarding the next Republican Leader is critical.
Who is selected matters. Unlike in the United States Senate, the rules in the House of Representatives make it particularly difficult for the minority party to significantly influence policy. Thus House Members must select as Leader someone who can marshal all of the resources and interests within the party to ensure its relevance and capably communicate conservative principles.