Gingrich sees hope for conservatives in new Congress
Republicans,suddenlyaminority in both houses of Congress and led by an unpopular president, need to restore their image as the party of small government but at the same time avoid the image of blind obstructionism, party leaders and analysts said Nov. 9.
“We have to recognize that this wasadefeatforRepublicans,notfor conservatives,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told The Washington Times.
There is hope to advance a conservativeagenda,Mr.Gingrichsaid, if House Republicans can find allies among conservative Democrats.
“The balance of power in the Houseisnow50-plusblue-dog[conservative] Democrats,” he said.
Itwon’tbeeasyforRepublicansto recover from Tuesday’s defeat, becausethepartyhas“completelylost its brand as the party of limited governmentandlowspending,”saidformer Rep. Pat Toomey, president of the conservative Club for Growth.
Apollof15keycongressionaldistrictsbytheClubforGrowthshowed voters now think “Democrats, not Republicans,arethepartyofsmaller government,” Mr. Toomey said.
Bya66percentto43percentmargin,votersthinkthe“GOPusedtobe the party of economic growth, fiscal discipline and limited government, but in recent years, too many Republicans in Washington have become just like the big spenders that they used to oppose,” the poll found.
“TheAmericanpeoplesentavery important message to both parties and particularly to my party,” RepublicanNationalCommitteeChairman Ken Mehlman told reporters Nov. 9 at a luncheon hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “I think we’ve got to listen to that message. I think we’ve got to recommit ourselves to being the party of conservative reform.”
One alumnus of the Gingrich-led 1994 “Republican Revolution” blamed Tuesday’s loss on the Bush administration.
“TheRepublicanParty[...]needs to recognize that the Bush administrationwaslargelythearchitectofits defeat, and that the party can no longer afford to play by yesterday’s playbook,” said former Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican.
According to the “old, time-worn playbook, a sitting Republican president is the head of the party and his teamcanpickpartyleadersanddictate the agenda,” said Mr. Barr, who warned that “if the party follows thatparadigm,itwillslipfurtherinto minority status.”
Republicans“mustbreakwiththe White House,” chart their own course “with new, younger, bolder leadership” and provide “a true alternative” to Democrats, Mr. Barr said.
However, one House Republican said, the need to show legislative accomplishments means that Republicanswillhavetocooperatewiththe new Democratic leadership — even attheriskofalienatingconservatives suchasColoradoRep.TomTancredo and other opponents of an immigrant guest-worker program.
“There will have to be a guestworker program of some kind and somethingthatisnotafullamnesty,” said Rep. Ralph M. Hall, Texas Republican. “That will probably lose the Tancredo faction.”
Mr. Hall predicted that Mr. Tancredo “is a smart man and will find a way” to make such a compromise work.
But some warn that bipartisan cooperation can be a trap.
“It is really important that the GOP not allow itself to be drawn into the ‘can’t-we-all-get-along’ role that the liberal pundits and media willnowhammertheGOPminority to play,” said elections lawyer Cleta Mitchell,aconservativeRepublican.
ShenotedthatDemocratswonon Nov. 7 after successfully blocking much of the Republican agenda. “The lesson from the Democrats may well be that getting nothing done is better than doing the things that your base opposes,” Mrs. Mitchell said.
UnifyingRepublicanscouldprove a difficult challenge, given a recent outburstoffinger-pointingwithinthe party. Former Rep. Dick Armey, Texas Republican, who has publicly blamed Christian conservatives for the party’s declining fortunes, on Nov. 9 wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal excoriating congressional leaders who he said had attempted “to rally their political base on wedge issues like illegal immigration and gay marriage,” and had thereby “alienated independents.”
Mr.Armey’scriticism—andsimilarcommentsbySen.ArlenSpecter, Pennsylvania Republican — an- geredFocusontheFamilyChairman James C. Dobson.
Republicans this year failed to motivate the “values voters” who helped Mr. Bush claim victory in 2004, said Mr. Dobson, who warned that some politicians are attempting to make social conservatives the scapegoats for Republican failures.
Mr.DobsonsaidMr.Armey“can’t beserious”inurgingRepublicansto repudiate Christian conservatives.
Amy Fagan contributed to this report.