If there was one event which would serve as a harbinger of the Republican Congress’ retreat from its Reaganite principles and defeat in last week’s election, it was the 1994 election for majority whip. After the Republicans won the a majority in the House for the first time in forty years, Pennsylvania’s Robert S. Walker, then-incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s best friend, “was initially favored to win the contest.” But, Tom DeLay, having raised money for many of the newly elected Republicans that year, won 52 votes out of the 73 GOP freshmen in the 104th Congress.
And while DeLay was an effective whip, he was less interested in advancing conservative ideas than was Walker. Five years before his election as Whip, he “managed the campaign” of then-Minority Leader Robert Michel’s choice for party whip, Edward Madigan against Newt Gingrich. That is, he supported the status quo against “the forces of change.”
By contrast, Walker was, with Gingrich, one of the founding members of the Conservative Opportunity Society (COS), a group of House Republicans committed to building on the ideas of Ronald Reagan to build a Republican majority. While committed to the principles which animated the party, the COS was often at odds with the House GOP leadership.
Perhaps had Walker won that election, he might have helped the GOP stand true to the principles he had long promoted. Instead, Tom DeLay sought to retain Republican power by the means the Democrats has used when they were in the majority, building alliances with lobbyists and using earmarks to set-aside pork for the districts of the various representatives. So brazen had DeLay been in pursuit of this agenda that he even set up a web site for his K Street Project, a program which demanded that “lobbying firms seeking access hire loyal Republicans.“
Whereas Gingrich and Walker built a Republican majority by appealing to the conservative ideas which had been — and still are* — gaining increasing favor with the American people, DeLay sought to maintain that majority by traditional political means. But, losing sight of principle and relying on “traditional political means” made corruption all the easier. And corruption had a significant impact in last week’s GOP loss. As Karl Rove put it in an interview with Time‘s Mike Allen:
The profile of corruption in the exit polls was bigger than I’d expected. . . . Abramoff, lobbying, Foley and Haggard [the disgraced evangelical leader] added to the general distaste that people have for all things Washington, and it just reached critical mass.
And Democrats won this year largely by running against that establishment.
As House Speaker-designate Pelosi supports a man which one left-wing group calls “one of the most unethical members in Congress, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), to be Majority Leader of the House of Representatives” and backs an impeached federal judge for head of the House Intelligence Panel, it appears she is willing to embrace the corrupt establishment against which her party so recently — and successfully — ran.
But, if my party wishes to recapture the majority, it won’t be enough just to run against the new majority’s casual attitude toward corrupt leaders, our party must return to the principles Gingrich and Walker so effectively championed in the early 1990s. House leadership elections matter. Bob Walker’s loss in 1994 all but guaranteed that the Republicans would lose twelve years hence.
House Republicans should bear that in mind as they prepare to elect new leaders later this week. Earlier this year, I wrote that Indiana’s Mike Pence, has used the House Republican Study Committee, which he chairs, as a “font for new ideas,” similar to the way Gingrich and Walker used the Conservative Opportunity Society. Pence would make a fine Minority leader, committing the party to the ideas Republicans championed in the 1990s.
The Walker loss in 1994 showed us the importance of electing principled Republicans to positions of power. To avoid the mistakes of the last Congress — and to repeat the successes of the 1990s — House Republicans should remember how important conservative ideas are to GOP victories. And how important it is to elect leaders committed to those ideas.
With Democrats uncertain about their agenda, it’s increasingly important that Republicans chose leaders who understand the importance of ideas. And who have fond memories of Ronald Reagan — and who embrace his vision for our great nation.
-B. Daniel Blatt (AKA GayPatriotWest)
*While Michael Barone notes that party identification in this fall’s election favored the Democrats by a margin of 38-36, “36 percent [of voters] identified themselves as conservatives and 21 percent as liberals.” And as I noted in a recent post, a CNN poll, taken just before the election showed that 54 percent of Americans favor smaller government.