If all the forecasts and pundits are right, the Republican Party will increase its hold on the House and will take over the Senate. The gridlock of divided government could give way to the mayhem of a unified GOP legislative branch against a Democratic White House. Impeachment, anyone? But the pressure would be on House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and a newly installed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) to show the nation that the Party of No can actually govern.
After years of battling a president the GOP base hates and a midterm election campaign void of vision, governing might be a heavy lift. But Republicans I talked to yesterday sketched out a plan for governing. They all insisted that it is imperative a Republican majority have real legislative victories. And two issued warnings to congressional Republicans that will go unheeded if past is prologue.
“They need to agree on a limited agenda of 2, 3, 4 things that there’s agreement on can get passed quickly. Less talk, more action should be the [attendant] mantra,” Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist who was a national surrogate for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, told me via email. “They need to put some proposals on issues like like tax reform, energy and [the Keystone XL pipeline], trade on top of [President] Obama’s desk and see what he does.”
John Feehery, the president of QGA Public Affairs, who was an aide to former speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.), wants Republicans to do more than just put things on the president’s desk. “They have to be able to have a fair process that allows input from all sides and produces a solid legislative product. A return to regular order. And they have to get results, not just be content with a presidential veto,” he said. “I think issues like an update to the Voting Rights Act, some aspects of immigration reform, corporate tax reform and finishing the appropriations process would be a doable agenda.”
“The expected new Republican leadership in the Senate and Speaker Boehner in the House must work on demonstrable progress on the macro-messaging legislative vehicles conservatives are expecting,” such as repeal of the Affordable Care Act, a GOP budget and a tax cut package, said Juleanna Glover, a longtime Republican adviser who worked with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, “and then buckle down in forging compromise on agenda items that conform to our principles but can be signed into law before 2016.”
This is vital for the GOP since it will have to run on a record of accomplishment at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue if it hopes to be entrusted with the keys to the White House at the other end. But Hogan Gidley, the former communications director for Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential run, had a warning for his party.
“A Republican victory this cycle could have more to do with disdain for President Obama and Senate Democrats than it does with a national desire for Republican policies,” Gidley said. “The country remains polarized — and Republicans must realize a victory this Tuesday doesn’t necessarily mean a wholesale belief in what they are offering. We must continue to sell why Republican governance is better and that PR effort has to be tethered to effective legislation that average people feel in their bank accounts.”
Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele had a warning similar to Gidley’s, but he includes GOP voters in his assessment. “Going into Tuesday’s elections, the lack of trust, both by the voters as a whole and by the conservative base, has kept the polling tight for Republicans. So the question of how Republicans will govern, should they control both houses of Congress during the last two years of Barack Obama’s presidency, remains unsettling for voters because it has largely been unanswered by the GOP,” Steele told me. “This should have been a campaign about people, with a message that spoke to their needs at a time when government seems to turn a deaf ear to taxpayers and voters. But it wasn’t. So, what the GOP leadership says to America once this electoral dust has settled will matter greatly.”
We’ve seen how well that leadership has worked in the past. Boehner lives in fear of the radical tea partyers in his caucus who twice put the full faith and credit of the United States in doubt and shut down the government. McConnell has been burned by Boehner’s inability to control his members. And both men have had to deal with the unproductive meddling of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), whose instigation of the government shutdown did their party no favors. More importantly, it is telling that we don’t know what the GOP leadership would say to America on the eve of the midterms and that we would have to wait until the electoral dust is settled before we will know. And it is just another sign of how difficult governing might be in a Republican Capitol.
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