Most of these conservative newcomers were tested even before they faced their Democratic opponents – defeating an average of 4 primary opponents to earn the right to represent the Republican Party. They won their respective primaries by proudly campaigning on conservative issues like decreasing federal spending, reforming the federal earmark process, and protecting traditional marriage. Liberals and moderates may not like to acknowledge it, but running as a ‘centrist’ Republican in a Congressional contest was definitely not an effective strategy this year.
Finally, it has been noted by several observers that there are many new Democrats in Congress who won by running to the right of Nancy Pelosi and the entrenched liberal leaders in the House. There will be more than a few Democrats in the 110th Congress who proclaimed their opposition to new taxes and their support for the 2nd Amendment, and who professed a belief in the sanctity of life. The voters who sent them to Washington will expect them to honor those positions, even if it means opposing their party’s leadership on these issues.
The House Conservatives Fund, which represents the political voice of the Members of the Republican Study Committee, is proud to have endorsed nine of the thirteen Republican freshmen, including four who were endorsed in their contested primaries. Despite its relative youth (the Fund was rejuvenated in April of 2005 under Congressman Ernest Istook and has been chaired by Congressman Tom Feeney for the past year), the HCF contributed more than $160,000 to open seat candidates, challengers to Democrat incumbents, and a few embattled Republican Members. Conservatives can also cheer the fact that every candidate who won his primary with the endorsement of the House Conservatives Fund went on to win his general election, as well – further evidence that conservatism was not the poison pill that it is being made out to be.
As we prepare for leadership elections and a brief sojourn in the “wilderness” of the minority, conservatives should allow themselves to look ahead while understanding the true message that was sent. Massive spending increases, ethical lapses and unchecked expansion of federal activities will not be tolerated, regardless of which party controls Congress. Our Republican minority must hold firmly to its roots in Reagan conservatism and work with more conservative Democrats to oppose the liberal agenda of the Democrats’ leaders while offering an alternative in the form of a return to the values of the Contract with America.
That kind of leadership, coupled with a concerted effort to recruit true conservative candidates in Districts that were lost to the anti-incumbent atmosphere this year, will bring us out of the wilderness with a renewed sense of purpose and a reinvigorated commitment to conservative values.