The political eruption that rocked the House last week is a symptom of deep-seated frustrations among Republicans that go far beyond the outcome of a disputed election in one congressional district in Indiana.
Trapped in a semipermanent minority status when their colleagues are governing from the White House and the Senate, bitter over the way Democrats run the House and sharply divided over how to achieve their goals, the House Republicans have been seething with dissatisfaction all year.
When a House task force divided along partisan lines and declared Democrat Frank McCloskey the winner by four votes over Republican Richard D. McIntyre in Indiana's 8th District, Republicans snapped.
"When this McIntyre thing broke, it was the last straw," said House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) "It brought everybody together."
Rep. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) added, "This McIntyre thing symbolizes frustrations that have been building up for years."
But, as Republicans discovered as they angrily debated what to do in response, collective outrage alone cannot bridge divisions within the party.
There is no question that the Indiana election has unified the Republicans in their commitment to gain retribution. But it also has sharpened differences between the Republican leadership, symbolized by Michel, who favors cooperation over confrontation, and a band of young turks, epitomized by Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and his Conservative Opportunity Society (COS), who argue that confrontation is the only answer. Some Republicans fear that the Indiana episode vindicates Gingrich, who has long said the Democrats should not be trusted. And they are seeking to prevent him from dominating the strategy decisions that lie ahead.
Those disagreements remain far from resolved, despite last week's unity of purpose and a series of caucuses, leadership meetings and endless private discussions.
"We've intensified our unity, but our differences have been highlighted," one Republican said late last week.
Moderate Republicans were alarmed last week to see Gingrich and several allies leading the leadership in discussion of tactics the party should employ to protest McIntyre's loss. Eventually, the extreme measures -- civil disobedience, for example -- were rejected by the leadership, but Gingrich's high profile and inflated rhetoric made some of his Republican colleagues nervous that the protest could blow up in their faces.
This week, if the Democrats move to seat McCloskey, the Republicans will be put to the real test. Will they shut down the House? Will they sputter and keep pushing the president's legislative program? Will they find an effective way to do both?
"It does not hurt to shoot a few warning shots across the bow," said Rep. Thomas J. Tauke (R-Iowa), one of the GOP moderates trying to offset the influence of the COS. "On the other hand, the majority of Republicans know that shutting down the House is not a viable option . . . . If the government does not move forward, it's the Republicans who will be held responsible."
The warning shots came Thursday, when Republicans used delaying tactics to bring business to a halt. Many Republicans do not want to continue that on a daily basis, but no one can agree on a plan of action.
The Indiana controversy will first and foremost test the Republican leadership. The leaders -- Michel, House Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), Rep. Dick Cheney (R-Wyo.) and others -- found themselves under fire and on the run last week, able neither to satisfy fully the firebrands who demanded dramatic action against the Democrats, nor to convince the regulars that those rebels would be controlled.
"If the leaders are not in control, it could get out of hand," one Republican warned, looking ahead to this week.
But the controversy also has forced House Republicans to confront their circumstances. At a time when the Republican Party nationally continues to advance against the Democrats, House Republicans say they feel more powerless than ever -- and more mistreated by the Democrats. "They're totally frustrated," one Democratic House member said. "They are a struggling minority, and they have division within that minority."
Republicans say frustration has bred anger and anger has bred despair. "I can't name a single Republican who says 'I'm going to stay here and do great things,' " said Rep. Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.). "Even in the very top level of Republican leadership, people are saying it's just not fun any more."
Republicans point to Rep. Tom Loeffler (R-Tex.), the chief deputy whip and a young man who seems to have a bright future in the House. Loeffler is seriously exploring a costly, uphill challenge to Texas Gov. Mark White (D) in 1986. His friends say it is a measure of his frustration, both with minority status and with the Gingrich faction, that could persuade him to junk a promising career for a long-shot statewide race.
One Republican called it the "up-or-out" syndrome. "I've had members say to me, this is enough. You have to ask why should I come back here for this crap," he said.
Added one Republican leader during the height of last week's controversy, "At least half a dozen members have decided in the last 24 hours to leave."
Republicans complain that, on issues ranging from committee ratios to scheduling to the use of television to the interpretation of rules, Democrats run the House on the model of master and slave.
"If justice is our bride in this chamber, we are playing the role of the cuckold," Rep. Michael Strang (R-Colo.) said during last Monday's all-night session in the House.
Democrats say they are baffled by these charges. "Some of my Republican colleagues, after being in the minority for a long time, feel they're being subjected to indignities that I don't see," one respected Democratic leader said last week.
"It may be the Democrats don't understand the depth of feeling because they've never served in the minority," Cheney said. "They get the good committee assignments. If you've got a good idea on a bill, chances are it will end up with a Democrat's name on it. We don't control the floor. The only thing we control is Special Orders."
Cheney, normally the moderate's moderate among Republicans, fumed at another point: "What choice does a self-respecting Republican have . . . except confrontation? If you play by the rules, the Democrats change the rules so they win. There's absolutely nothing to be gained by cooperating with the Democrats at this point."
Adding to the frustration is the fact that Republicans are farther from majority status than they were four years ago, after smaller-than-expected gains in the 1984 elections. That prompted internal criticism over the National Republican Congressional Committee's performance, which in turn brought about a restructuring of the NRCC operations. The goal is to involve members more fully in the committee's activities and target the committee's resources to prevent the GOP from losing tough races.
House Republicans see the NRCC as the leading edge of the strategy to take revenge for the loss of the Indiana seat, if the Democrats seat McCloskey on Wednesday. "If we use this to increase our efforts to elect Republicans and defeat Democrats, that is the most constructive approach," Tauke said.
But that also is likely to heighten the partisan tension within the House that members on both sides say contributed to the current situation. Michel said in an interview that Republicans believe that the Indiana election dispute got to this point because Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, rather than House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), ran the strategy.
"We feel strongly that we better join the issue right now or we're going to have trouble in the future," Michel said.
Coelho, a tough, partisan infighter in the House, is blamed by many Republicans for the breakdown in relations between the two parties. "1980 threw the Democrats off," one House Republican said, referring to Reagan's victory and the Republican takeover of the Senate. "They did not know how to respond to less power in Washington. It has only gotten worse."
But Coelho denies that he engineered the Indiana outcome, and House Democrats fire back that the Republicans have only themselves to blame for increased partisanship. They say it was the NRCC that mastered the art of targeting and defeating incumbent Democrats.
"They wonder why people are embittered," one Democrat said.
Some Republicans say they understand the need for both Michel's approach, and Gingrich's, too. "It's like two sides of a coin," said Rep. Lynn M. Martin (R-Ill.). "One complements the other. The Bob Michel style allows time for congeniality and comity to exist. Without that, you can't govern. The Gingrich style believes confrontation can also produce results. He believes in action, in pushing, in moving forward. Without that, you could always be in a minority."
But other Republicans see Gingrich as a threat to the party, calling him "ruthlessly ambitious" and fearing that his style hurts the party in the long run.
The Republicans have yet to prove they can function effectively with that kind of split personality, and the Indiana fight heightens the dangers of breakdown. Michel warned in an interview that the seating of McCloskey "is going to poison the well for a long time to come."
"Everyone's nervous about the future," another Republican said late in the week. "No one can live with this hostility.