A House Majority, if Republicans can Keep It

Republicans have secured a U.S. House majority, barely.  Barely is better than not at all.  But a slim margin will pose daunting challenges to Republicans, who will be led by Kevin McCarthy.  The Californian will win the speaker’s gavel with the full backing of his conference.  He’ll notch a win because the stakes are enormous.  Even, finally, tough-nosed conservative Matt Gaetz knows this

McCarthy wins because he’ll cut a deal with Freedom Caucus members who backed Arizona’s Andy Biggs for speaker.  Biggs won 31 votes to McCarthy’s 188.  Biggs was trounced but really not, because those 31 votes loom large.  Republicans may just top 220 seats.  218 seats are a majority.  McCarthy can’t afford more than a few renegades among his conference, so Freedom Caucus members will exact their pounds of flesh.    

McCarthy only becomes speaker after the whole House votes in January.  The Democrats will nominate creaky Nancy Pelosi, who’s made a few noises about sticking around, or, more likely, Hakeem Jefferies.  Nancy may prefer running the minority to life in retirement with Paul -- and any nudist houseguests intruders who happen along.   

The question to ask McCarthy and the usual suspects who’ll fill other GOP leadership roles is, “Now that you have the majority, what do you plan to do with it?” 

The fear is that House Republicans will spend the next two years as deadweight, simply serving to drag down Biden’s and Chuck Schumer’s anti-everything-that-makes-sense measures. 

Stopping Democrats is critical, indeed, but not sufficient.  Voters don’t just want naysaying.  Surely House Republicans learned something from the recent midterm elections? 

Yes, there was more than one factor why Republicans failed to make robust gains in House contests.  But a glaring failure -- compliments of Mitch McConnell and crack Washington GOP consultants -- was the notion that Republicans would roll up Ws solely by opposing whatever Democrats stood for.  In other words, the magic potion was a referendum on Democrat rule.  An up or down vote would suffice.  It didn’t. 

Too many Republican candidates, regardless the offices sought, spent too much time hawking their resumés (Republicans always believe they’re applying for jobs) and messaging negatives -- tempered, in many instances -- about Democrats.  But voters expect more than resumés and negatives.   

The next two years are about House Republicans building a record full of initiatives that voters approve.  A catalogue of smart legislation helps lay the groundwork for the 2024 elections, which include electing a president.  No small potatoes.      

Investigations will play an important role not only in righting some wrongs committed by Biden and his clan, and lay bare the sheer rottenness of administration officials, starting with that bootlicking order-taker, Alejandro Mayorkas, but help shape the political environment ahead.  But legislation focusing on Americans day-to-day needs is pivotal.  

McCarthy-led House GOPers need to address a wide range of issues.  That’s a heavy lift.  It means that House Republicans must arrive at agreement on lots of meaningful legislation to send to the Senate, where Schumer’s Democrats will kill GOP measures quicker than doddering Joe Biden can say, “Ice cream.”

Democrats nixing Republican handiwork is a given.  House Republicans must show voters that they’re working overtime to address their concerns and needs, even as Democrats pour on the flak.  Failure to do so will play right into Democrats’ hands.  Democrats have their playbook: cloak their lame agenda in their typical “We care about you” hogwash and contrast their efforts with Republicans.  House Republicans who do nothing more than shouting “Stop” will hand Democrats an undeserved victory.     

Another point.  Over the next two years, the economy and crime may worsen; the border will remain a deliberate bleeding wound, gushing fentanyl and illegals into the U.S.  But during the past two years, not enough voters felt enough pain, evidently, despite survey research showing voters believing the country was on the wrong track and displeased with Biden’s and congressional Democrats’ performances. 

Voters may cross pain thresholds in the coming months, but House Republicans can’t sit on their haunches making assumptions that more pain will automatically drive voters their way.  They’re going to have to fight for votes, in part, too, because of generational change that’s occurring and cut badly against Republicans in the midterms. 

John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School, had this to say to GBH, Boston, November 16:

To give you a sense of what happened, 63% of this voting bloc voted for Democrats, 35% for Republicans. That essentially was enough to mute the over 65 vote because the intensity of the support for Democrats had an extraordinary impact on the outcome. And Jeremy, when we think about Gen Z and Millennials together, by 18 points, they supported Democrats. Everybody over the age of 40 supported Republicans. The degree to which the red wave was blocked -- it is blocked 100% because of the enthusiasm of Gen Z as well as Millennials.

Who says indoctrination in schools doesn’t work?  Young voters offset the votes of over-40 Americans sufficiently to stymie a red wave.  Democrats were adept in rounding up Gen Z and Millennials’ ballots -- versus just trying to persuade them to vote.    

House Republicans have a challenge: Find ways of peeling off more support from younger cohorts with legislation that falls within a common-sense conservative framework.  And look for opportunities to maximize ballots among 40+ voters.   

The biggest challenge, however, will be how McCarthy and his team hold together such a small and potentially fractious majority.  Moving meaningful legislation over to the Senate will be formidable.  A mere handful of Republicans can derail any piece of legislation.  This is the downside of winning fewer seats than hoped. 

Another danger is that McCarthy may have to cut deals that so dilutes legislation as to render measures little better than window-dressing. 

Democrats, with able assists from corporate media, will do their best to splinter the GOP majority.  Why is this a worry?    

Unlike House Democrats, Republicans have a discipline problem.  Whereas Democrats routinely walk in lockstep, Republicans seek and receive dispensations from GOP leaders to “take a walk” on legislation they believe hurts them electorally.  Or they’ll indicate that they’re peeling off to back Democrat proposals, usually because it involves monies for whatever project or program they think curries favor with constituencies.

McCarthy and his team will have to employ carrots and sticks to keep Republicans from straying.  Republicans who seek common cause with Democrats will muddy Republican messaging and hurt GOP chances come 2024.  McCarthy, Scalise, and Emmer can’t hesitate to lower the boom on rogues.               

McCarthy does seem to be the best choice for speaker at this point in time.  McCarthy wouldn’t be my first choice and probably not my second.  Jim Jordan would be my top pick, but Jordan is backing McCarthy and has shown little inclination in his congressional career to be either speaker or majority leader.  He seems glad to chair the House judiciary committee. 

McCarthy did raise an impressive $500 million roughly last cycle and appears to have distributed monies to GOP candidates fairly enough.  Republicans did win the House under his direction.  He also seems to work well across conference factions.  His “Commitment to America” lacks sharp focus and punch, but was more than the scheming Mitch McConnell offered, which was zilch.  The perfect is the enemy of the good, and right now, McCarthy is as good as Republicans get. 

McCarthy is walking a tightrope these next two years.  If he fails to broker smart deals that yield sensible legislation that resonates with voters, 2024 could be cruel to Republican congressional candidates.  He certainly won’t do Trump any favors, the putative GOP presidential nominee, or Ron DeSantis, who’s waiting in the wings should Trump not make it to the nomination.

Anyway, a small majority and high stakes.  We’ll see what these Republicans are made of. 

J. Robert Smith can be found regularly at Gab @JRobertSmith.  He also blogs at Flyover.     

Image: Samuel F.B. Morse, National Galleyr of Art              

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