Last night, a prominent conservative blogger was telling me that she "hates Republicans" and that she wants to vote independent. When I asked her why, she said, "Yeah, they’re totally gonna elect Boehner and Blunt. And then the Martinez thing. They’re killing me."
All I can say is that yeah, they’re killing me, too.
Although it’s too early to tell who’s going to win, the same Republican leaders in the House who failed miserably in the last election, such as Representatives John Boehner (R.-Ohio) and Roy Blunt (R.-Mo.), seem to be on track to win re-election. Worse yet, Sen. Trent Lott (R.-Miss.) of all people is trying to make a comeback as minority whip in the Senate. Then there’s the Republican National Committee, where Ken Mehlman, who was an excellent chairman, is being replaced by sitting Sen. Mel Martinez and an RNC staffer. After the drubbing the Republican Party just took, does it really make sense to replace an effective RNC chairman with a pro-amnesty, part-timer like Mel Martinez?
Then there’s the albatross around the Republican Party’s neck, the guy in the White House, who has rushed out to assure everyone that he intends to continue to try to push his amnesty plan that’s wildly unpopular with the base. On top of that, as an extra added bonus, the top two contenders for the White House in 2008 right now are Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), a guy who made a career out of kicking the Republican base in the teeth, and Rudy Giuliani, a tougher, more charismatic version of defeated Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R.-R.I.).
In other words, if you’re looking for signs that the GOP is getting back to its conservative roots in Washington, there aren’t many to be seen right now. That’s bad news because this election wasn’t about it being the "Democrats’ turn" to take power or about liberals fooling people by pretending to be moderates, it was a referendum on the sort of big government Republicanism that has taken root in Washington—and the verdict on "compassionate conservatism" turned out to be a big thumbs down.
Obviously, what the American people want to see from the GOP is same principled conservatism that led to landslides for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, a landslide for George H.W. Bush in 1988 (before people realized he wasn’t another Reagan), and Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution in 1994—and that’s certainly not the vibe that they’re getting from Republicans in Washington right now, even after a crushing loss.
Make no mistake about it, the GOP base is upset, demoralized and disappointed in the performance of the Republican Party, and if the columns, blog posts and comments I’m seeing around the net are any indication, a lot of conservatives still aren’t convinced that anyone in Washington is listening to them. That’s understandable because conservatives were pointing out many of the problems that cost the GOP the election in 2006 for YEARS without anyone on Capitol Hill, including the President, seeming to pick up on it or care.
Conservatives insisted that we stop wasting money and we got a Bridge to Nowhere. We insisted that we take an enforcement first position on illegal immigration and we got an amnesty plan that was worse than anyone had even imagined a year or two beforehand. We heard calls for ethics reform and we got the Republican leadership complaining because the FBI searched the office of a Democrat with bribe money in his freezer. With that kind of performance, is it any surprise that the base wasn’t there for Washington Republicans when it counted, at election time? For too long, Republicans in Washington have lived by one principle, "What are they gonna do, vote for the Democrats?" and it finally caught up with them in 2006.
But, the good news is that it’s not too late. Republicans in the House can still bring in leaders like Representatives Mike Pence (R.-Ind.) and John Shadegg (R.-Ariz.), who can get the party back to basics. In addition, Pence has vowed to fight the Senate’s amnesty bill if he’s elected minority leader and Sen. Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.) is trying to organize a filibuster of the bill in the Senate. Moreover, Republicans in Congress are going to have a lot of opportunities to articulate their views and prove their mettle as they oppose the tsunami of bad legislation that will be pushed by Democrats in Congress and the son of "Read My-Lips."
If Republicans once again prove that they’re the party of Ronald Reagan, not the party of "compassionate conservatism," the base and the American people will support them again. But Republicans in Washington shouldn’t forget for one minute that the confidence level in them is very low, even amongst their own biggest supporters, so they’re going to have to prove themselves every step of the way.