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.
While others bring similar enthusiasm and principle, now is not the time for on the job training. Rep. Boehner – one of the original architects of the Gingrich Revolution – can appreciate this reality. The fact is because there are only two years before the next election Republicans must hit the ground running. He’s a gifted communicator and has the political record to back up his statements.
Not one of those leaders who was “for reform, before he was against it,” Rep. Boehner is a man of principle: he has never voted for a highway spending bill in his entire career – not as a back bencher in the minority, not as a committee chairman, not even as a member of the House Republican leadership.
Recognizing early on that the GOP needed to offer a bold vision if the Republicans were to ever gain a majority, he worked with Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey to craft the “Contract With America” and after only four years in Congress had the privilege of becoming one of the most senior leaders in the House. And within the Republican leadership he was a reliable and able advocate of conservative principles including among others taking a lead role in the balanced budget fights of the early nineties and the revolutionary effort to bring market forces to American agriculture policy.
While many thought his political career had peaked after losing his leadership race in 1998, Rep. Boehner continued with party building exercises and instead of souring, demonstrated his principled leadership of the Education and Workforce Committee. And last January, he was rewarded for his efforts by being given a second chance to serve his party—this time as Majority Leader. Why? Because he was the recognized reformer— because he was a renegade who understands that big ideas are the salvation for any political party.
Once again the party needs to make a critical choice. Republicans need a leader who won’t settle for minority status. They need a leader who can ably articulate conservative principles. They need a leader who has actually lived up to the ideals he advocates. They need John Boehner.