A Moment That Passed

June 23, 2014

The defeat of former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by a grassroots activist college professor should have presaged a fundamental shift in the Republican Party Congressional leadership. It should have been a wake-up call to establishment Republicans that the unprecedented national animosity toward Congress in particular, and politicians in general, requires a new approach, and new personalities. Cantor’s shocking defeat should have had the canary-in-the-coal-mine effect, with Republicans realizing that they were in trouble. But it didn’t.

In an internal party election that surprised no one, Kevin McCarthy was promoted from the position of Majority Whip to Majority Leader. McCarthy is being lauded in the mainstream media as an amiable sort of guy, a moderate who won’t rock the boat. He won his position because he’s an adept back-slapper and glad-hander. Is this what the Republicans really need in these times of peril?

Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team, for which McCarthy has played a key role, has lost the confidence of conservative Americans. Of the Boehner-Cantor-McCarthy troika, Eric Cantor was by far the most conservative. He’s gone, leaving Boehner and McCarthy in place. Sure, they will be joined by new House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a conservative, but the song remains the same. In promoting McCarthy, the Republican Party House caucus decided to go with the devil they know rather than risk a new direction. Their problem is that America is no longer a place satisfied with safe, failed choices.

We live in vertiginous times. Few things in life seem durable, let alone permanent. Change is the byword of our culture and certainly our politics. The more politically skilled among us – they’re called Democrats – have been able to play the change card successfully, if not deceitfully, for a long time.

Republicans are more hidebound than the Democrats, and have not learned the art of the political pivot as well. In most things, this is good. We want political leaders who stick to their principals, especially when those principals are what made this nation great. There is no cause to celebrate the mendacity of the Democrats, but must the Republicans be so predictable? And are Congressional Republicans tenaciously clinging to valued principals, or just persistent in maintaining their power structure?

The current Republican leadership of the House of Representatives has failed to channel America’s skepticism and anger toward the Democrats into legislative gain. They seem at once timid and discombobulated. Conservatives in Congress are repulsed by Boehner’s diffident leadership and frustrated that he continues as Speaker. But, they have only themselves to blame.

Given a golden opportunity to change the leadership of the House, and thereby effect a change of direction for our nation’s politics, conservatives whiffed at the plate. The usual conservative suspects – Texas Congressmen Pete Sessions and Jeb Hensarling – briefly considered making a run for majority leader and then fled the scene. Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador bravely entered his name in the race, but after a pre-election weekend imbroglio at his state’s Republican convention, his prospects dimmed.

So, conservatives were consigned to vying for the Majority Whip position, which they won with Scalise. But what did they really win? Scalise, at best, will be faced with a hostile moderate dyad of Boehner and McCarthy, requiring him to relive the difficulties his heroic predecessor, then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay, overcame against Newt Gingrich and his more moderate leadership team. At worst, Scalise will truckle and genuflect to get respect and scraps from the less-than-dynamic duo topping the leadership chart.

There is a Secret War happening right now… The target? Your privacy!
Either way, conservatives lose.

For the past several decades, voters have sent increasingly conservative Republicans to Capitol Hill. Once ensconced in the nation’s capital, though, these conservatives start to wilt. In sheer numbers, they far outnumber the moderates – yet, the moderates continue to control Republican leadership offices on both sides of the Congress.

Perhaps it’s the desire of politicians to be loved by Washington’s media and social establishment? Or perhaps it’s the veracity of the rule made famous by conservative journalist sage M. Stanton Evans, that once one of our guys – conservatives – gains a leadership role in politics, he fails to be one of our guys? Whatever the cause, it seems that arrival in the city that used to be an official swamp causes the lionhearted to become fainthearted.

According to conservative Congressman Justin Amish, the moment to make the House leadership conservative has passed. He avers that attempting to dislodge Boehner and gang after the November elections will be a Sisyphean task. After the election, the leaders are giving out goodies to Congress members, in the form of committee assignments, office locations and other perks. That’s not the ideal time for a revolt. Plus, in the aftermath of what is likely to be a trouncing of Democrats in the 2014 election, timid conservative Congressmen are unlikely to reward their leadership with a swift kick in the pants.

So, the decision has been made. Republicans have decided that the leadership that has led them to unprecedented disdain will stay in place. The chance to capitalize on Obama’s equally historic lack of popular support will fade.

Look away, please, nothing happening here. Our moment has passed.