Even before a majority of races had been called on election night, liberals were circulating articles and press releases blaming Republican losses on a “too-conservative” agenda. If only the leadership had pursued legislation raising the minimum wage and expanding embryonic stem cell research, they argued, we would not have suffered the losses we did. But the facts don’t support such claims. Simply put, the outcome of this year’s election was a resounding defeat for the politics of big government, rampant spending, and ‘politics as usual.’ Cold comfort though it may be, conservatism was not the culprit.
Republican Study Committee Chairman Mike Pence put it well when he said, “We did not just lose our Majority – we lost our way. We are in the wilderness because we walked away from the limited government principles that minted the Republican Congress.” Voters responded to bloated budgets, deficit spending, and expanding federal programs – not to the values spelled out in the Contract with America.
In fact, conservatives have quite a bit of good news to hold onto in the House of Representatives. Relatively speaking, conservatives have actually increased their strength within the Republican Party, as there were fewer conservatives than centrists defeated on election night. The Republican Main Street Partnership, a group of socially liberal Republicans that counted roughly 40 House Members among its ranks before last week, suffered significant losses. As RSMP Executive Director Sarah Chamberlain Resnick put it when interviewed about the results of the elections, “Oh my God, it was a bloodbath for us. We paid the price for the President’s agenda.” Although several Republican Study Committee Members were defeated, Congressman Mike Pence’s group still includes more than 100 Members, and it will represent the “majority of the minority” in the 110th Congress.
The new crop of Republicans is even better news. Of the thirteen newly-elected Republican Members, there are easily ten who ran as fiscal and social conservatives. They are: Michele Bachmann (MN-6), Vern Buchanan (FL-13), David Davis (TN-1), Mary Fallin (OK-5), Jim Jordan (OH-4), Doug Lamborn (CO-5), Peter Roskam (IL-6), Bill Sali (ID-1), Adrian Smith (NE-3), and Tim Walberg (MI-7). Though each of them holds a seat that was vacated by a Republican, only Mary Fallin replaces a current Member of the Republican Study Committee. Each of the other Members-elect represents a chance to expand the ranks of the RSC.
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.