Love him or hate him, John Boehner was by no means the dominant force of nature in American politics. The growing tidal wave of disapproval from GOP voters had nothing to do with Boehner as a person; it had everything to do with what he represents. Republican voters are not just looking for a new Speaker, they are looking for a new party. They are looking for a viable alternative to the Democrats. It’s time for elected Republicans to heed that lesson and forge an entirely new path.
Back in May 2014, when Dave Brat shocked the political world by resoundingly defeating sitting Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the GOP empire moved with swift agility and within 24 hours had blithely rallied around the “next in line.” There was no period of introspection or regard for what had just occurred. They pompously anointed Kevin McCarthy, the poor man’s Eric Cantor, as the next majority leader.
Now the House conference has a second chance to right the ship. It’s time for their colleagues across the Capitol in the Senate to heed the same lesson as well. According to a recent NBC/WSJ poll, 72% of Republican voters were dissatisfied with both Boehner and McConnell’s ability to achieve their party’s goals. A Fox News poll shows that 62% feel betrayed by their party. McConnell and Boehner are not dominant medial or cultural personalities like Newt Gingrich, Nancy Pelosi, or Hillary Clinton, yet their own party’s voters want them out. It was never about Boehner; it was about what he lacked. And what he lacked is the same thing McConnell and Kevin McCarthy lack—a desire to fight for issues concerning conservatives.
In many respects Mitch McConnell has been worse than Boehner this year. He has used control of the Senate to sabotage conservatives on every major battle, block conservative amendments, and undermine our leverage in an even more pernicious fashion than Harry Reid did during the last session.
As it relates to McCarthy, now is his time to shine. He is majority leader and Boehner is a lame duck. If he cannot stand up on the Sunday talk shows with his iPad in hand and play the Planned Parenthood videos and speak with moral conviction about why the president should not shut down the government in order to fund barbarism, he is unfit to replace Boehner.
Conservatives lack the votes to affirmatively push for the nomination of any particular candidate for Speaker, but they have enough votes to veto any choice. Even if a majority of the conference nominates a bad candidate in the private party conference, a group of about 30 members can always veto the decision on the floor because a Speaker must receive a majority from all those present and voting in the House body.
Nobody is going to get everything they want in a party leader and everyone is going to have to compromise, but the establishment is greatly mistaken if they seek to simply anoint a leader rather than allow all the candidates to air out their ideas over the next few weeks. This is not about personalities; it’s about laying out a vision for confronting Obama over the next 15 months and laying the groundwork for a conservative in the White House.
To that end, here are three overarching concessions conservatives must secure from any candidate for Speaker.
1. Restore Deterrent of the Power of Purse: At present, the biggest problem with leadership is that they have conveyed the message to Democrats that there is nothing they will ever fight for in the budget process that would possibly risk a shutdown. That must change. As we’ve noted before, Republicans will have to eventually use budget brinkmanship to get things done even if they win back the White House. The next Speaker has to be willing to draw a line in the sand on fundamental and easy-to-message issues and be willing to publicly fight for them and let the Democrats know there’s a new sheriff in town.
2. Focus on Meaningful Ideas: Aside from the obdurate refusal to block Obama’s agenda with the purse strings, the current leaders have no positive message of their own on meaningful issues. Most of the House schedule is wasted on naming buildings, trivial suspension bills, or downright liberal priorities. As we’ve observed before, there are numerous consequential issues that work in our favor and should be brought to the floor to draw a sharp contrast with Democrats. Drawing that contrast and highlighting liberal extremism should be a priority for the next Speaker.
3. Returning Power to the Committees: The House has been run like a plantation straight out of John Boehner’s office. The committee process has become irrelevant and even the good legislation that passes out of committee, such as the Davis-Oliver immigration enforcement bill, has never made it to the floor. The next Speaker must allow the committees to do their work and conduct votes on conservative legislation that is able to pass the committee process. They must also follow through on their promise to allow an open amendment process on the House floor.
If Republican members think that by merely shunting the current failed leaders to the next level on the totem pole they will assuage the concerns of voters, they are mistaken. Voters are looking for a clean slate. The longer the Republicans carry on with their tone deaf actions the more severely they will suffer repercussions in the long run.
(This article on the grassroots looking for a new party first appeared HERE)