The House GOP Goes Thelma and Louise

Posted: Feb 15, 2007 12:32 AM
The House GOP Goes Thelma and Louise

How does an intervention in a caucus work? This needs to be answered because the House Republicans need one, and very soon.

In the past three weeks I have spoken on air with every member of the GOP leadership: Republican Leader Boehner, Republican Whip Blunt, Republican Deputy Whip Cantor and Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Caucus Tom Cole. Each is a solid conservative, and each is strong supporter of victory in Iraq.

And none would utter even the mildest criticism of their GOP colleagues who are in the process of deserting the war effort, “emboldening the enemy,” to use Congressman Cole’s words, and sending a message to American allies and yes our enemies that the desire to cut and run now has bipartisan support.

Two weeks ago Senator Mitch McConnell skillfully led his chamber’s GOP caucus away from the edge of political ruin. Senate rules gave McConnell an advantage Boehner does not enjoy: McConnell could block a vote if only 40 Republicans would join with Joe Lieberman to refuse to allow defeatism to go official. Senator McConnell gathered more than enough votes, and the 32,000+ signatures at helped get the attention of waverers who might have thought a little political cover a useful thing. The victory Republicans in the party’s base made it clear that there are no “free votes” on the war. It is one of at most two issues –the other being Supreme Court nominees—for which political absolution down the road is not an option.

The House does not play by the Senate’s rules, and Democrats will get their up-or-down vote on their white flag resolution. GOP leadership’s ill-conceived effort to try a Bud light version of the Democrats’ telegram to terrorists of fading American will was abandoned after it became evident that this was simply not an option with the base. That was the good news.

But then, incredibly, the leadership chose not the “whip” the vote. That means they decided not to lean on Republicans who have soured on the war and who are declaring for defeat.

The outrage that had been directed at the Senate’s waverers only two weeks ago is now building and erupting against not just the round heeled Republicans, but also with much more fury at the leadership.

One of the original organizers of the Porkbusters’ effort, N.Z. Bear has now opened up The Victory Caucus, and sign-ups to engage in activism directed against the GOP’s defeatism are pouring in. While the Victory Caucus will be devoted to much more than political activism –there are links to key organizations supporting the troops like the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund and SoldiersAngels, as well as news feeds on the war and key media clips—a clear emphasis will be on focusing the political energy of the millions of Americans who understand the stakes in the war and want those stakes articulated and defended on the Hill.

And right now that means facilitating the connection of the furious with the furrowed brows among GOP leaders on the Hill. It seems clear that the GOP leadership is simply oblivious and wholly out-of-touch with the party’s base. The leadership seems not to understand that it cannot be understood to be serious about the war if it is not serious about this resolution, and it cannot be serious about the resolution if this is a “free vote” for which Republicans defecting to the Democrats feel no political pain.

Congressman Tom Cole has the unenviable job of trying to put the GOP majority back together again. What he is hearing tonight after an appearance on my program yesterday is that his NRCC isn’t going to be getting any help from thousands of Republicans and independents who simply will not send money to an organization that will support the re-election of Republicans in the House who vote for the Democrats’ resolution. Whether Congressman Cole is genuinely unaware of the sentiment in the grassroots, indifferent to it, or simply unsure of how to respond doesn’t really matter. The NRCC is going to wake up on Saturday with a resentment against the House Republicans that is set in concrete.

The anger with the GOP leadership isn’t over the fact that the GOP is going to lose the vote.

It is very much a result of the fact that the GOP didn’t fight.

The tone-deafness among the Congressional leadership is astonishing. And it goes much deeper than just this vote, though this vote is a neon sign flashing incompetence the size of the Goodyear blimp. In my interview with Cole (transcript here), the Congressman stated that the NRCC wasn’t ready to roll out a list of targeted districts, that it didn’t want to “bless” candidates in primaries even if those candidates were veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan, and that generally, he understood the dilemma of Republicans voting for the Democrats’ resolution.

My lines and e-mail box were instantly filled with missives from voters in the Tucson area who know all too well that the NRCC did in fact take sides in a GOP primary there in 2006 and who are deeply bitter about it. This illustrates that in the new media world, Congressmen have to be very careful to always convey the absolute truth. I am sure Congressman Cole intended to say that he didn’t think it was a good idea to play in primaries, but it came off as though the Beltway elite could once again head fake the grassroots.

Congressman Cole’s somewhat condescending platitudes on candidate recruitment also set off listeners. These are people who have donated hundreds and thousands of dollars over the years to Republican candidates. They don’t want Marcus Welby telling them to take two aspirins and call in a couple of days, or to assure them that it is too early to start campaign 2008.

They want a Republican Rahm Emmanuel, and if they don’t get him, they aren’t going to hang around by the door waiting for their 96 hour campaign instructions. The astonishment at Republican lassitude is hardening into bitterness, a bitterness which if not arrested soon guarantees the GOP a long stay in the minority. “Leather chair” Congressman, as one caller put it, may want their jobs more than victory or a majority, and they will be getting just that.

The Republicans were defeated in November, but not routed. Mark Foley and the MSM helped the terrorists in the campaign to retire the Republican majority, but it was the sixth year of an eight year presidency, and a lot of the losses were extremely close run things. To fallback, regroup, and go on the offensive seemed to be the obvious steps to take. Instead it looks like the caucus is a sign-on-the-door, not an organization, and the leadership is channeling Bob Michaels, not Newt Gingrich.

If instead of refusing to whip the caucus, the GOP leadership had appeared on the steps of the Congress with five candidates for targeted districts, each one of whom was a veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa, and each of those candidates declared that while they could not vote for victory today they would be there in two years to do so, each one of those candidates would have had a surge of financial and organizational support that would have been epic.

Instead my audience heard Congressman Cole telling them it was too early to be talking about targeted districts.

No, Congressman, it is too late. There is a war going on, and the political front at home is the crucial front. It is on the political front in D.C. that the enemy in Iraq intends to win. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, their families and supporters expect the Representatives and Senators to treat the war as the life-or-death struggle that it is, not another election issue. The GOP has not been doing so, and it needs to start doing so.

On Saturday I spoke in Phoenix, to a gathering of the men of the Valley Presbyterian Church in Scottsdale. One gentleman, Charlie, a little older than me, approached me to give me an update on his son, currently deployed in Afghanistan. His son’s expected return to the States after a year had been delayed and his deployment extended for four months in anticipation of the Taliban’s spring offensive. It was hard news to receive, but his pride in his son and confidence in the rightness of the mission was obvious.

I expect from the victory Republicans a political toughness that at least reflects 10% of the genuine courage demonstrated by the this man and his father.

I expect a bluntness of speech equal to the bluntness of the risk these troops face, and an unwillingness to tolerate the sort of fence-sitting which makes sense on highway bills and ANWR drilling, but which cannot be countenanced on resolutions “emboldening the enemy.”

In short, I expect –and apparently so do thousands of others—the Republicans on the Hill to act as though they are willing to sacrifice something –including perceived political advantage—to win the war.