FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
The Most Important Congressional Election in the Next 12 Months.
It won't happen in November. It might not happen at all.
Prepare yourself: we are going to have our arses handed to us in November. I remain cautiously optimistic that McCain might win the White House, but I regard it as a near certainty that we are going to lose 3-6 seats in the Senate, and between 15-30 seats in the House.
That is not to say that I want any of these things to happen. And that is not to say that I am not optimistic about certain things: I am hopeful that we might pick up seats in TX-22, FL-16, AL-5, and GA-8. I am also hopeful that we might do a little internal housecleaning and replace one of the most incorrigible members of Congress (Don Young) with a real Republican like Sean Parnell.
But it is time for us to be realists about what – at the very least – might happen, and plan accordingly.
The basic problem that we have, when it comes to Congress, is that our leadership – specifically, the people who currently occupy positions of power in both houses of Congress – lack credibility. While the current Republican caucus has made some moves since the great debacle of 2006 that indicate that they understand where they went astray, that does not change the fact that they are essentially the same people who betrayed the public’s trust on a whole host of issues in the years leading up to 2006. This fact will not be forgotten by the public, and it cannot be avoided if we ever hope to recover.
You see, here on the blogs and in the halls of punditry across the nation, many conservative pundits make the fundamental mistake of assuming that people elect issues. Therefore, a lot of ink is spilled (and wasted) on such issues as whether Congressman so-and-so is doing a good job because he has voted for this bill or against that bill. This focus is misguided and will not reverse the electoral hemorrhaging that we are currently experiencing.
You see, the elemental truth of a Republic is that the public does not vote for issues. The public votes for people. It is of course true that in certain areas of the country, you can not get elected unless you profess a belief in certain issues – but the vast majority of Congressional seats are winnable by candidates of either party, even if those candidates hold a significant number of politically unorthodox views for the area. That is because the principal commodity that a candidate has to sell is not his issues, but rather his credibility. And when a candidate forfeits his credibility with his constituency, they will reject him no matter how ideologically opposed they are to his opponent. I could provide over a dozen examples of this phenomenon from 2006, but I think we already know the litany. The unfortunate truth that comes along with the reality of voting within a two-party system is that when lack of credibility becomes systemic enough within a political party, innocent members of that party will be punished as though they also lacked credibility, until the party as a whole is seen by the public to be cleaning up their mess.
Now let me tell you how this played out in 2006.
As scandal after scandal broke, and as ridiculous pork project after ridiculous pork project came to light, and after public frustration with Congressional corruption (real or perceived) reached a boiling point, the public decided that the Republican party was not credible anymore. And so they sent the party a clear and unequivocal message that the house needed cleaning. A lot of the people who lost in 2006 deserved to get tossed out, frankly. But for every one of those people, there was also a Jim Talent or an Anne Northup who just got booted out for the (R) after their name.
So how did the party respond to this message? Well, Bill Frist was already going to retire, and Denny Hastert had exposed himself as a clown during the Jefferson affair, so basically those two left. Then we had a leadership election to determine which direction the party was going to go in. We had an opportunity at that time to put forth to the public fresh faces like John Shadegg and Mike Pence who had fought the wasteful spending and corruption that their own party had engaged in. Instead, we just basically gave everyone in the food chain below Frist and Hastert a promotion.
The end result, in the eyes of the public, is that now we have the same exact people who voted for every ridiculous spending project that came their way voting against things like SCHIP. And President Bush, who had never vetoed anything on the basis of wasteful spending for six years, choosing that moment to take a stand against government waste. What a debacle. However you felt about the SCHIP program and whether it should have been defeated, neither President Bush nor the current Congressional leadership has the moral standing at this point to credibly make the case to the American people that they want the government to be smaller, less wasteful, or less regulatory. The sad truth is that even the correct moves made by those who are currently in charge are going to be received by the public as shallow politicking for which the party as a whole will likely be punished – again.
You want proof that the people in charge just don’t get it? Check this out:
Some Republicans say the Republican Study Committee’s ongoing push to define the House GOP’s election-year message is a thinly veiled attempt by the group’s chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, and other members to put their political ambitions ahead of party needs.
“We should be really focused on the majority party,” said one senior GOP aide. “This is all about giving [Hensarling] the stature, given [presumptive GOP presidential nominee Sen.] John McCain’s anti-earmark position, to get him nominated to a senior position in that administration. It is so obvious and he is doing it at the worst time for the Conference. None of this is helpful for anyone other than him.”
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The idea has drawn opposition from within the Republican Conference and from K Street.
“I just don’t think it is helpful right now,” said one top GOP fundraiser. “People that are ordinary Republicans are looking at this discussion of earmarks and saying ‘enough already.’ K Street is pissed off about this earmark discussion. There’s going to be a lot of that, people trying to position themselves for the next administration. But not all of them are going to try to take money out of the mouths of those that give it to the party.”
Real smooth, guys. Why don’t you knock down a guy who has at least some credibility on spending to a major beltway publication and complain out loud that it’s pissing off K Street? Way to show your commitment to regaining the trust and confidence of ordinary people.
We are going to lose seats again this election in Congress. When that happens, the incoming caucus is going to have a choice. Will they force a leadership election and install true reformers like DeMint, Shadegg, Pence, or Flake in positions currently held by the business-as-usual crowd? Will they realize that business-as-usual means continuing and ongoing defeat for the GOP in Congress? My sense – my fear – is that the current Republican members of Congress fear rocking the boat too much to risk crossing current leadership by voting to toss them out.
My hope is that we – with your help – can encourage them in the coming months to recognize the absolute necessity of restoring our credibility with the American people – and that restoring credibility in this case sadly has nothing to do with casting new votes. In this case, it means having those votes cast by new people.