Tim Chapman

On Friday morning House Republicans will hold a meeting to elect leaders who will lead them in the minority for the first time since 1994. The House leadership elections have become ground zero for an intra-party debate about the future of the Republican Party and the broader conservative movement.

Many outside groups, conservative blogs and grassroots conservatives are agitating for a return to bedrock conservative principles. The call for a back-to-basics approach has often been coupled with a call for fresh faces in GOP leadership. Among the members vying for leadership positions there are indeed some fresh faces as well as some old hands. But all have one thing in common: They are echoing outside calls for a return to the fundamentals.

The top two posts in the House GOP caucus have attracted five candidates. Current Majority Leader John Boehner wants to continue to lead his party as Minority Leader. He is challenged for that spot by an up-and-coming conservative, Republican Study Committee Chairman Mike Pence. Texas Representative Joe Barton has also joined the race for leader as a dark horse candidate.

According to Hill sources, the contest for Minority Whip is very close. Current Majority Whip Roy Blunt is being pushed to the brink by former RSC Chairman John Shadegg. The Blunt-Shadegg race is in many ways a rematch of the Majority Leader race 10 months ago in which Shadegg ultimately bowed out but wounded Blunt sufficiently to allow Boehner to assume leadership.

The calls for fresh faces from the outside have translated into support for Pence and Shadegg, who have both been vocal critics of the House GOP leadership when it comes to issues such as runaway federal spending.

In an op-ed in The Hill newspaper, Pence wrote that “in recent years, to the chagrin of millions of Republicans, our majority also voted to expand the federal government’s role in education by nearly 100 percent and created the largest new entitlement in 40 years. We also pursued domestic spending policies that created record deficits, national debt and earmark spending that has embarrassed us and caused many Americans to question our commitment to fiscal responsibility.”

In much the same way, Shadegg is reminding his colleagues about the failure of his party on matters of conservative principle. “Republicans came to Washington as reformers,” wrote Shadegg in the same publication. “We reformed welfare, balanced the federal budget, and reduced tax rates. We have much to be proud of. However, somewhere along the way, we lost our way.”

Tim Chapman

Tim Chapman is the Director of the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. and a contributing columnist to Townhall.com

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