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How To (Re) Build A Coherent GOP House Leadership And Caucus And Save The 113th Congress

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What to do, what to do, what to do?  Senator Lindsey Graham has a plan: Support John Boehner “because, quite frankly, I think he deserves it.” 

Maybe he does, but not by any measure typically associated with success in the private sector or, crucially, within our political history.  His greatest success has been in raising money for his members.  His greatest failure is in refusing to even try to communicate with the base that would actually like the blue-collar guy from Cincy who made very good.  Eric Cantor, the other invisible man, would also be liked by the base if the base knew who he was and his story.

Don’t rule out coups or resignations in the aftermath of yesterday’s collapse of leadership, but the chances of anyone wanting to take over in such circumstances are very low.  Better to wait for next January if you are a, say, Ryan-Gowdy supporting coalition of trads, rads and climbers.

In the meantime, rebuilding begins the day after the earthquake.  There’s a way to do that.

Step. 1: House Leadership needs to communicate with the conservative base that elected the members that elected the leadership.

Step 2 – 99: Repeat Step 1.

Step 100: Having communicated and persuaded the base of the message and mission of the GOP Conference, the Leadership asks the members to embrace a strategy supported by a set of tactics that had previously been explained to base, and the members, hearing support from the base that elected them, agree.

If the House GOP ever had a plan that could have succeeded –doubtful as the president was always going to say “no, no, no,” after his Syrian fiasco and his failure to pass any legislation– it was never communicated to the base via anything like a systematic effort involving the Speaker and the Majority Leader.  When GOP leadership went to the members yesterday it couldn’t even get support for the repeal of a tax –a job destroying 2.3% tax on gross receipts of all things– because some low information congressmen had been persuaded it was a bad idea.  That is a spectacular example of what happens when bad information crowds out good information because the people in a position to make the case for repeal didn’t bother to do so, assuming, quite wrongly, that some things are obvious.

If the medical device tax repeal had been repeatedly brought back to the Senate over the past six months, and there left to languish by Harry Reid, it would have been freighted with significance yesterday, instead of suddenly and irrationally becoming a poison pill.  The geniuses that kept the repeal bottled up since March have much to answer for yesterday.

Ditto the “Vitter amendment” and all the other “Yeah, that’s the ticket” Jon Lovitz moments that have marked the past week.

No message. No messengers.  No strategy. No tactics.

And some are mad at Ted Cruz?

Really, anyone who scapegoats Ted Cruz for the House fiasco is tagging themselves as intellectually incapable of dealing with the reality of American politics.  Senator Cruz filled a giant vacuum created by the base’s demand for confrontation with and transparent, articulate opposition to the president and Harry Reid — a vacuum that existed because no one in House Leadership even tried to talk to the base for the past year.

Here’s a suggestion for an enterprising reporter: Add up the number of Ted Cruz appearances on the most influential radio talk shows –Rush, Sean, Levin, Bennett, Gallagher, Prager, Medved, Ingraham, Miller and mine. Ten different platforms: How often did Boehner appear on them since 1/1/13?

Then compare that number to the combined appearances on the same list of shows by the Speaker, the Majority Leader and the Majority Whip.  I am quite certain that Cruz wins that count. And that’s why he won hearts and minds –he tried to win them.  He argued for them. He got them and has them still.

But they could be shared, but not by a House Leadership that almost accidentally communicates condescension and disdain for the people who voted them there.

There are other tests of effort if pundits want to dismiss talk radio as a reliable indicator of outreach to the base, things like sit downs with O’Reilly and his enormous audience, on-the-record chats with Jim Geraghty or others in the conservative commentariat, or something as basic as appearances at Tea Party gatherings or home town town halls.  There are lots of ways to measure messaging effort, but understand Sunday show appearances aren’t a positive in this assessment.  That’s what the Beltway watches, not the base.

Whatever happens today and tomorrow the same drama of the House GOP v. the president will begin again, and not just on Obamacare and spending, but on immigration reform.

The good news is that it is not even half time of the 113th Congress.  The GOP could change coaches, quarterbacks, or the entire front office and it wouldn’t matter if they played the same game.

Or they could just try to adopt an agenda of specificity, sell it hard to the base and gather the votes needed as a result.

To do that, though, you will have to see and hear the senior leaders in places they don’t like to go, beginning with talk radio and then at Tea Party rallies where their initial reception at least will be rough.

The one guy who can pull this off is Paul Ryan.  Hope that he goes into the (public) game, and spends most of his day talking to the people who so enthusiastically supported his selection as VP nominee last year.

Where to begin?  As soon as the CR/Debt Ceiling passes, roll out the GOP position on immigration, and hope it includes a very long, very high fence and a very rapid regularization of the millions who are in the country illegally. Whatever it is, sell it, and win or lose on the details of a plan, not the hope that things will work out in the end.



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