Mississippi Burning: GOP Should Heed Gingrich's Warnings

Matt Towery

5/15/2008 12:01:00 AM - Matt Towery

In another recent example of a Republican-leaning congressional seat in the Deep South going Democrat, the battle to replace Mississippi Congressman Roger Wicker proved bad news for the GOP. He lost a special election this week.

After a similar debacle for Republicans just weeks earlier in Louisiana, my old colleague, Newt Gingrich, wrote a piece for Human Events that cautioned his fellow Republicans to wake up and smell the coffee. I know from having talked to several GOP House members that Gingrich's message, when first delivered, received some blowback from some of his former colleagues.

Nobody knows better than I that Newt can come across as the slightly condescending professor. But forget the issues of style. He's absolutely right this time, and the Mississippi election's result merely confirms the urgency of his message.

Here are Newt's main points:

-- Congressional Republicans can't take comfort in McCain's polling numbers. Newt accurately notes that McCain's non-traditional Republican image is what has him in the ballgame. A more typical Republican candidate would be running much further behind.

-- Being anti-Obama, anti-Clinton, anti-(Jeremiah) Wright is not a model that will work this year. Again, "The Great One" has hit the nail on the head. As he correctly points out, the Republican brand has been so badly damaged that just running "anti" to anything will get the party's candidates nowhere.

-- Republicans have lost the advantage on every issue being polled. Name a topic, and Americans tell those of us who poll that the Democrats can handle it better. Tough news, but as I say, most polls don't lie -- only pollsters do!

-- House members should call an emergency, members-only conference. This isn't to say that Newt's nearly endless succession of conference meetings were a smashing success when he was U.S. House speaker. And he knows it. Even so, he's now urging the House GOP caucus to at least bring back his tradition of creating a sense of urgency, and leveraging off of that sentiment by creating a realistic plan for formulating a genuinely new message and legislative agenda for public consumption. And by the way, the "members only" qualification is to avoid the meddling influence of staff and others, who inevitably cause members to pull their punches, and who position themselves for beneficial press leaks after these meetings.

Gingrich next suggests a list of immediate actions, including:

-- The repeal of the gas tax for the summer and the cutting of domestic discretionary spending in Congress to pay for it.

-- A redirection of oil now going into the national petroleum reserve. It should flow into the open market instead.

-- The establishment of an "earmarks" moratorium for at least a year, plus a pledge to uphold any presidential vetoes of budget earmarks through the end of 2009.

-- The implementation of a space-based GPS-style system for air traffic control.

Newt also includes a suggested reminder to the public that Congress has a vital role in the appointment of federal judges, and that Republicans are better stewards of this task than Democrats.

Whether one agrees with all of Gingrich's proposals is immaterial. More critical is that he suggests the GOP do something, and quick.

The Republicans seem stuck in a time warp, somehow hoping they can win again because of the secret biases of voters against black or women candidates; or by trotting out the tired mantra of "he's too liberal." In my 30 years of watching the national political scene, I have never -- not once -- seen this throwback strategy of name-calling deliver a victory for a Republican candidate.

Newt started his career on Capitol Hill as a young innovator. I know. I was there while he drew all sorts of diagrams, charts and Lord knows what else as he and his young staff tried to carve out what we called a "Conservative Opportunity Society."

Nowadays, anyone who knows me knows that I'll kick Newt in the rear end in a New York minute if I think he is doing something that brings back the latter days of the GOPAC political action committee, among others of his "entrepreneurial" ventures. But when I scold, I'm just trying to keep him on the right path.

The fact is that the man is a darn genius. (He'll even tell you if you ask nicely!) Gingrich seems to be the only major leader in the GOP willing to face reality. The party can either listen to him or sink beneath the waves.