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“How The GOP Lost Congress” by Clark Judge

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The Monday morning column from Clark Judge:

How The GOP Lost Congress
By Clark S. Judge, managing director, White House Writers Group, Inc. ( <> )

In today’s Wall Street Journal (here: <> ), I offer “10 Tips for the GOP in 2010”. Over the weekend I found an online interview that gives excellent context to criticism I offer of recent GOP congresses.

First, background.

In the article I argue that, if they are to win big in 2010, congressional Republicans must face that their actions were the reason for party’s 2006 and 2008 defeats.

Increased spending, earmarks, rising deficits between 2000 and 2006 alienated a major segment of former GOP voters. As I report, “According to one veteran of the GOP leadership speaking on background this fall, the party’s 2008 exit poll showed that these swing voters anticipated a left-leaning Obama presidency but wanted to teach the GOP a lesson.”
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As they look to the coming mid-term elections, the damage from all the spending remains a major drag on the Republicans in Congress. According to an analysis from the Rasmussen polling organization (here: ), “75% of Republicans voters still believe Republicans in Congress have lost touch with GOP voters” with 54% believing “the average Republican congressman is more liberal than they are.”

The must listening interview is with Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, chair of the House Republican Policy Committee and one of the top four Republicans in the House. It is an edition of the online television show Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson and is posted in segments at National Review On Line (here: <> ; scroll down) and without breaks on the Hoover Institution website (here: <> ). I listened to it through iTunes.

Robinson asks McCotter if sanctioning a run-up in spending by the GOP congress was the price the Bush Administration paid to get and keep Republican support for the Iraq War. McCotter gives a qualified “yes”, but adds that there was more to it than that.

He says that Congressional Republicans supported the initial moves against Iraq as essential for national security in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The reconstruction was something else.

“There were many of us, McCotter notes, “who said you cannot have a top-down, Great Society Meets Baghdad approach out of the Green Zone to creating model democracy in Iraq.”

He adds, “Instead, what we should have been doing since 2003, and people like myself argued, was we should have been doing something like the Petraeus Plan from day one.” So holding the Bush Administration used spending to hold flattering GOP in Congress as it fumbled with the reconstruction.

But Iraq wasn’t the whole story.

The other big issue was trade. As McCotter says, “[Y]ou take free trade and you look at where a lot of our seat were lost in the Ohio River valley, in the Northeast, in the Midwest. These are not hotbeds of free trade.”

McCotter sums up, “[W]hen you talk about how the Republican Party responded to this, I think a lot of the spending also came from [the administration and GOP congressional leadership of the time saying] well, we know if we have problems over… free trade [and] the war. This [spending project] will help you in the district.”

He argues that accepting loads of projects proved the easy path for the GOP caucus, “instead of trying to be willing to go out there and differentiate yourself from a bad policy of this scale or to work internally to get that administration to change it.”

The Iraq part of McCotter’s explanation tracks with what I heard around Washington at the time, that a deal had developed between the White House and then House Speaker Dennis Haster. The president would receive blanket support for his post-invasion policies in return for no spending vetos.

It also appeared clear that the administration opened up the pork barrel to pass CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement. It was in the process of winning approval for that agreement that the administration signed off on the Bridge to Nowhere.

In the end, as McCotter suggests, the exchange of spending for blanket acceptance of key administration priorities proved a bad deal for the Congressional GOP, one from which they are still struggling to recover today.


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