A series of stories, statements, and hurried denials from Republicans this week should have served to alert every sitting Republican member of Congress that, even if November 2 brings good or even great news, November 3 should not be a day of backslapping old friends and celebrating the return of chairmanships and budgeting authority.
On the day after the GOP leadership should gather and announce their intention to begin planning both to (1) block anything except minimalist measures in the lame duck session of the most-profligate and destructive Congress of modern times and (2) to develop the agenda for early January. They ought as well to pledge maximum transparency in those deliberations. A very smart move would be to designate a senior spokesman for each caucus whose job it will be to inform the public what the plan is for going forward. If two respected conservatives come forward each day with a summary of the planning --say Senator Jon Kyl and Congressman Paul Ryan-- the deep concern over the return of "Beltway Conservatism" will be assuaged for at least the few weeks it takes to formulate an agenda for confronting President Obama with the demand for fiscal responsibility and repeal of Obamacare that will be the mandate of a victory on November 2.
Push out the details. Get into the legislative weeds. Respect the voters who may provide a mandate and do not in any way adopt any of the arrogance and condescension which has come to define Nancy Pelosi's and Harry Reid's tenure in Congressional leadership.
Disaster awaits the GOP if either a "go slow" or a "compromise" strategy on either spending or Obamacare emerge from either the Senate or the House caucus. Congressman Darrell Issa, usually a resolute, principled conservative, ignited a firestorm this week when he declared that it was "pretty clear" that "the American people expect us to use the existing gridlock to create compromise and advance their agenda." This is a head-shaken misstatement of national mood, a classic, wrongful refighting of the last war --the Clinton-Gingrich confrontation of 15 years ago.
In fact, a sustained, principled and crucially immediate confrontation over Obamacare and budget is exactly what the public is demanding. Republican incumbents who seek compromise will instead get primary challenges, and almost immediately see those challengers draw enormous, internet-and-talk-radio generated resources. Any Republican who dares advance an earmark will similarly find themselves singled out and branded as the worst sort of RINO backslider. Any Republican who suggests that we need to meet the president half-way on the mandate or any other prominent feature of the last two years of radical innovation will find themselves surrounded by Tea Party activists at their next town hall meeting.
This is truly a changed political reality, one driven by the genuine and deserved alarm over the country's fiscal health and it's commitment to individual liberty. It isn't yet remotely clear that the GOP Congressional caucus has internalized this truth, but a large freshman class will be obliged to quickly educate their longer serving colleagues that they did not organize and work all these months in order to get a chance to sit at the end of a long table and cast dutiful votes.
John Boehner has a chance to take the energy and the new faces and recast the GOP, but he will have to do so quickly, even urgently. The plan has to be developed, laid down and executed. Senator McConnell will have to keep his colleagues from the sort of statements that destroy momentum, but the wily Kentuckian has proven himself very skilled at doing just that these past two years.
The Coalition in Great Britain has just announced a serious, wide-ranging and very painful budget. Though of course ours is not a parliamentary system that allows for such declarations followed by rapid enactment, a new majority can and should introduce and quickly pass it's priorities out of the House and on to the Senate. Senate Democrats can delay then reckoning but if they do, their colleagues on the ballot in 2012 will never recover.
There is a need for speed, not compromise and haggling. The GOP will ignore that need only at it's great political peril.