Robert Novak

Boehner, elected chairman of the House Republican Conference when the party took control in 1995, tried then to keep Luntz from addressing closed-door meetings but was overruled by Speaker Gingrich. When Luntz in October 2005 publicly warned of rejection by voters in 2006, he was forced to deliver an abject apology before he could speak at a retreat of House Republicans held at the Library of Congress. After seven straight years on the program, Luntz was kept off last week's 2007 session at Cambridge, Md., by Boehner.

In keeping with his belief that words work, Luntz deplores the language publicly used by Boehner upon his election as majority leader in February 2006: "While I would hope that we could agree on one big issue that we would fight for, you know, it is really for the members to decide. What I have got to do is provide the process to see if we can get ourselves there."

In fact, there was no Republican theme for 2006, as individual members of Congress make clear in private sessions with Luntz. Yet, the Republican minority overwhelmingly re-elected Boehner as leader against the reform candidate, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana. Immediately after the 2006 election returns were accompanied by exit polls indicating voter concern with scandals, Pence said: "The greatest scandal in Washington, D.C., is runaway federal spending." Luntz agrees, and so do McCain and a few other members of Congress.

Indeed, Luntz is not alone in his gloomy prognosis. Republican pollster Bill McInturff believes his party "underestimates" the 2006 outcome and thinks the Republican outlook is as dangerous as it has been "at any time since Watergate." Sen. Jim DeMint, a reform Republican from South Carolina, says the newly minority Republicans are like the Israelites yearning for the fleshpots of Egypt. The question is whether the party will heed warnings or follow the route of its leaders, who want to mainly trash Nancy Pelosi.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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