I intended to submit this to the Republic, but never got around to it.
It’s official. Congressional Republicans are clueless. After getting their collective behinds handed to them in the recent midterm elections, Republican House and Senate members held elections to select new leaders. Actually, they mostly re-elected their old leaders. The lack of soul searching is nothing short of humiliating.
After getting crunched by Democrats on the issues of Iraq, scandals, spending, and good-ol’-boy arrogance, Republican caucus members in the House voted for more of the same. The caucus rejected leadership bids by Mike Pence from Indiana and Arizona’s John Shadegg. Pence’s loss does not rise to the same demoralizing level as Shadegg’s, primarily because Pence was trying to unseat the popular and respected John Boehner. Boehner has only been in leadership for seven months, having been elected to replace scandal-plagued former Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Boehner can’t be totally blamed for what’s ailing Republicans, but he didn’t even break a sweat as he beat Pence 168-27.
Shadegg’s loss to Blunt for Minority Whip, however, is proof positive that Republicans intend to take this minority status thing seriously and hang onto it for as long as they can. Re-electing Blunt is embarrassing, foolish, and plays smack into the stereotype that Republicans are more concerned about power than they are about what’s right for the country. Power, you ask? Republicans aren’t in power, so what power are they trying to protect? Earmarks. The Bridge to Nowhere, the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame, a swimming pool in California. All earmarks added to spending bills by Republicans. Believe it or not, there are still a large number of Republicans who subscribe to what used to be the ‘old’ way of thinking, outlined by guys like Speaker Dennis Hastert, Tom DeLay and Roy Blunt, that as long as they bring home their share of the bacon, they will be dutifully rewarded by their voters in the elections. The Contract with America must have been drafted on a wet napkin, because the principles outlined in that document have vanished.
Shadegg was elected as part of the Contract with America class of 1994, and he hasn’t been corrupted by the pork game. So, after witnessing his party get sucked into the pork-for-power game over the last few years, Shadegg decided to run for Whip on the promise to reform the smoke-filled backroom persona that has become synonymous with Republican rule. For that he received 57 votes to Blunt’s 137. Great. It’s a good thing Hastert and DeLay weren’t running for anything, as they probably would have also been re-elected.
As recently as a week before the November 7 elections, Roy Blunt was on national television defending the practice of inserting earmarks into spending bills. That alone should have ended his chances at being re-elected Minority Whip. While Blunt was on television securing the Most-Out-Of-Touch-In-The-Country Award, Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake was featured on 60 Minutes blasting how badly earmarks have corrupted the institution. The 60 Minutes segment even likened Flake to the Jimmy Stewart character in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Which segment do you think had more populist appeal?
Flake and other leading conservatives campaigned hard for Shadegg, but we know now that it was never meant to be. How Republicans intend to show the country that they got the message clubbed over their heads on election day remains to be seen. One things for sure, however, if Republicans don’t get this figured out soon, they will be in the minority for a long time.