The tea party’s two big “victories” this primary season consist of upending conservative incumbents in favor of unknown, really conservative challengers in deep-red jurisdictions. The tea party may get Chris McDaniel instead of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and swapped out House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for David Brat, but so what?
Honestly, these races were deep red before and they will remain so. The GOP did not thereby broaden its appeal or make inroads with new groups. It simply burrowed down where Republicans face little competition. I guess this is something, if one believes Brat and McDaniel can actually drive conservative policy aims, but I’m hard-pressed to see where the gain is for the GOP at large.
Even worse, with the expected announcement later today that Cantor will step down as majority leader this month, the leadership change may swap in the current Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for Cantor. In other words, the GOP may wind up with a blander, less inspiring leader — certainly not a Republican in the conservative vanguard — as majority leader. This is an improvement?
The House would be smart to diversify its ranks and instead go with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who gave a bang-up response to the State of the Union address. The GOP could use some personable, TV-capable faces, and putting a woman in the leadership ranks would help blunt the war-on-women nonsense.
As for Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), his office confirmed that his announcement of disinterest in the speaker’s job holds true for the position of majority leader as well. He’ll be focused on his current job and next year will need to decide if he’ll throw himself into the Ways and Means chairmanship or take a stab at a presidential run.
The one surefire way to improve the GOP’s fortunes would come in the contest for whip to replace McCarthy should he move up. The best choice for the GOP would be Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who is a conservative thinker and well respected by mainstream and tea party types. Conservative commentator, New Orleans native, former Hill staffer and ex-congressional candidate Quin Hillyer observes:
Scalise chairs the Republican Study Committee, a mammoth, 175-member caucus designed to keep the House GOP firmly conservative in policy and strategy. On March 26, the RSC released a bill called the “Jumpstarting Opportunities with Bold Solutions” Act (note the acronym: JOBS), expressly aimed at “growing the economy — not the government.”
The result of a months- long process by an eight-member working group chaired by Scalise, the bill is in many ways a compendium of familiar (even if too little credited) Republican proposals to create, yes, jobs — via creative and effective regulatory relief, limits on the power of union bosses in favor of individual workers and aggressive production of fossil-fuel resources. . . . He’s industrious, persistent and easy to work with. Those are the skills that get good legislation passed.”
In short, simply replacing conservatives with more conservative alternatives in deep-red locales does little for the GOP in the aggregate, and to the extent the replacements are unskilled or reflexively anti-government, it is a net loser for the party and the country. But if determined reformers run — or if tea party wins open up space for reformers to advance — then conservative ideas have a fighting change, and the party’s ability to build a sustainable majority is enhanced.
From our vantage point, swapping McCarthy for Cantor isn’t anything to crow about, but if in the process tomorrow’s GOP leaders advance, then there is some consolation in Cantor’s loss for reform conservatives.
UPDATE: McMorris Rodgers just announced she won’t be running for the majority leader slot. Unless Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) wades in, the majority spot will likely go to McCarthy. No cause for cheer on that score.