Among House Conservatives, Indians but no Chief

Trey Gowdy’s not running for House majority leader.  Never mind Speaker.  Seems that even John Boehner urged Gowdy to run for the two-slot.  Boehner likely wants to mollify conservatives, who won’t be electing a Speaker.  The top job’s going to establishment favorite Kevin McCarthy, the current majority leader and Boehner protégé.  It’s a big surprise if McCarthy’s slip of the tongue stops him.  Jason Chaffetz and Daniel Webster are also-rans.      

Gowdy is staying put on the Benghazi committee.  In Gowdy’s words:

"What I said [to the House Republican Conference] is, 'I'm not your person. I don't have the qualities that are necessary to be an effective leader. I'm very content where I am,'" Gowdy told The Hill Thursday, recalling his message to the group.

Chatter is that Gowdy may leave DC after 2016, though Gowdy denied the speculation in The Hill report. 

Gowdy epitomizes the trouble among conservatives.  The U.S. House has no shortage of conservatives.  But leaders? 

Two conservatives are vying for majority leader, Louisiana’s Steve Scalise and Georgia’s Tom Price.  Both men are competent; neither are out-front leaders.  Price is probably the better communicator.  Price may have an edge, having locked up endorsements from House heavyweights, Jeb Hensarling and Paul Ryan.  Leadership elections are October 8. 

Graveyards are said to be full of indispensible men.  But marquee players?  That’s what House conservatives lack: a big name above the title.  Someone with the personality and chutzpa to drive a conservative agenda.  Someone who’s willing to bring a gun to knife fights with Democrats.  Or shoot it out if Democrats bring guns.         

Entering the critical 2016 elections, the face of the House GOP is going to be McCarthy.  McCarthy is no less a “conciliator” (with Obama and the Democrats) than is Boehner.  McCarthy might make Boehner look vivacious.    

That McCarthy is going to be Speaker points to conservatives’ failure.  Recall that Boehner recaptured the speakership last January because conservatives couldn’t better organize his defeat.  They had the Indians, but no chief.    

The House Republican Caucus is various shades of conservative.  There are lighter shades of RINO, indeed, but the RINOs aren’t a majority.  McCarthy’s bid could have been sunk.  As Kathleen Parker wrote for the Washington Post:  

Having (sort of) unseated Speaker John Boehner, these 37 or so uber-conservative House members [Freedom Caucus] are now scrambling for “a real leader.”  Except that they aren’t really because they have no one with the skills, experience or legislative record to offer.

Parker’s an establishment Republican who relishes taking shots at conservatives.  But she has a point.  Where’s the conservative candidate for Speaker from the Freedom Caucus or among conservatives, generally?      

There’s no one among conservatives with the right stuff to lead – or in Gowdy’s case, willing enough.  There’s also the matter of unity among conservatives. 

Plenty of conservatives will horse-trade votes with McCarthy for plum committee and subcommittee assignments.  Or for other considerations, like monies for their districts.  Or to take care of laws and regs that benefit key constituencies and special interests.  Advancing a coherent, disciplined, and principled conservative agenda?  Well, that’s not necessarily Agenda Item #1.    

Horse-trading is woven into the fabric of legislative life, but it needn’t be the be-all and end-all.  It should be a means of advancing important agendas.  Is that what’s happening among House Republicans today? 

McCarthy is making noise that he’ll “fight to win” as Speaker.  Meaning, per a CNN report:

"I'm willing to fight but I want to fight to win," McCarthy said when asked about the call by some Republicans to force a government shutdown fight in an effort to defund Planned Parenthood.

Sounds eerily like a Boehnerism.  Never mind taking stands on principle.  Never mind picking fights that help develop a record and a 2017 agenda.  Sometimes in the world of politics, you win by losing.  Sometimes you pick fights knowing you’re going to lose but appreciating that you’re laying the groundwork to win future battles, on campaign trails and legislatively. 

Newt Gingrich grasped the need for battles, even when you lose a good share.  He got the value of sharpening differences over big issues.  Newt was about taking clear stands and positioning for fights to come.  He was an instinctive fighter. 

But Newt’s “Contract with America” and his head-on clashes with Democrats are said to be passé in post-everything America.  Voters don’t like conflict, we’re told.  Americans want “make nice” and fixes, whatever they are.  That’s the establishment Republicans trope, at least.  It’s one of the few things they communicate with something approaching conviction.       

McCarthy is talking about a “bottom up” approach to identify issues and build consensus among House Republicans.  It sounds like a process suited for homogenization, for a lot of vanilla oozing from the Speaker’s office. 

Baffling is this: In the aftermath of the 2014 midterms, McCarthy still can’t articulate an agenda?  He doesn’t have his arms around the mandate that grassroots voters gave Republicans – again – to move the nation in a new direction?  Gutting Obamacare doesn’t come to mind? 

How about tackling illegal immigration per grassroots aspirations?  Trump may make McCarthy nervous, but McCarthy can’t see that the big groundswell of support for Trump is due to his hard-line on illegals?  Then, again, “immigration reform” means as much to cheap labor RINOs as it does to vote-harvesting Democrats, so… 

How about the Iranian nuclear weapons appeasement deal?  Right, that’s mostly the Senate’s bailiwick.  But how about some audacity from McCarthy?  How can House Republicans help queer the deal?  Or is that just too subversive for a button-down pol?     

McCarthy doesn’t intend to go to the mat to defund Planned Parenthood (or maybe he’s cunning and isn’t tipping his hand, but don’t hold your breath).  There’s been a lot of GOP huffing and puffing about Planned Parenthood for the TV cameras.  Plenty of indignation was hurled at the stylishly coifed but ghoulish Cecile Richards during her testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  Was the committee hearing part of an orchestrated effort to strip Planned Parenthood of taxpayer money? 

Was the committee hearing good base-rousing, election-year fodder?  One would think so.  But was the hearing – among dozens of other efforts – aimed at retaining a House Republican majority for its own sake?  Blather and empty gestures have been part of Boehner’s shtick.  Do we really need a Republican House just to authorize debt ceiling increase requests and divvy up the spoils?                  

Perhaps Price or Scalise as majority leader will lend much needed spine to the Republican leadership.  We should hope so.  Or either man could merely be absorbed into the status quo.  To be determined.  The bigger story is that House conservatives can’t find – or settle on – a leader.  And that’s not good for the cause. 

If you experience technical problems, please write to