Republican bloggers make push to replace Rep. Cole

Conservative bloggers want Republican House campaign chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) replaced.

Frustrated by three special-election losses and the dour atmosphere surrounding congressional GOP candidates this year, online conservatives believe a Republican purge is in order if the party wants to salvage its long-term prospects on the Hill.

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“[Republicans] can continue on this course until November and embrace disaster,” wrote the directors of RedState, a leading conservative blog, “or they can clean house and bring a new direction to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).”

That new direction includes a new NRCC chairman and a commitment to an anti-earmark pledge, they wrote last week, after Democrat Travis Childers won in a special election the Mississippi seat held by Republicans for three decades.

The bloggers also write that Cole and other Republican leaders haven’t stressed enough the need to play to the party’s base, especially on fiscal matters, which they think is crucial to holding off Democratic gains.

Only if they concentrated on reducing earmarks would they be able to rally the activists who could reverse Republican fortunes, according to RedState’s editor, Erick Erickson.

GOP leaders “have gotten comfortable and they’re out of ideas,” Erickson said. “They went for 12 years in leadership in the House, and when they ran out of ideas, they started bribing the voters.”

Cole has been a recurring target of conservative bloggers, who point to his own words as evidence he doesn’t share their concern over spending as an electoral issue.

“Oh, I don’t think the problem was spending,” Cole said in May 2007 when asked by The Washington Post why he thought Republicans lost seats in 2006. “People who argue that we lost because we weren’t true to our base, that’s just wrong.”

Quotations like that show that Cole and other Republican leaders don’t understand what’s ailing their party, according to Richard Viguerie, the legendary GOP direct-mail operative who now writes at ConservativeHQ.com.

“Make no mistake about it, Democrats didn’t win in those three special House elections this year because their districts had suddenly turned liberal,” Viguerie wrote after last week’s special election. “The Republicans lost because the base of the GOP — conservatives — is so discouraged and angry over the big government policies of the national party. And Rep. Tom Cole just doesn’t get that.”

Cole seems to understand that Republicans need to make changes. During a conference call last week, Cole said that the public had lost confidence in Republicans, repeating himself so often that “it could have been a Democratic call,” wrote conservative pundit Rich Lowry. But just as telling of the Republican mood was the headline of Lowry’s column, “The Goner.”

NRCC spokeswoman Julie Shutley disputed the claim that Cole hasn’t been enough of a fiscal conservative. “Chairman Cole believes that the Republican principles of lower spending and lower taxes are essential to the future of our party and the future of our country. As chairman of the NRCC, his top priority is growing the Republican majority in the House — he will continue to do everything he can to make sure that happens,” she said in a statement.

Democrats took issue with the idea that Cole has done anything to change the GOP’s direction. “There is not one bit of difference between the GOP of today and the party that lost Congress two years ago, except that they are even more out of touch with the American people,” said Doug Thornell, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Activists aren’t calling for just Cole’s head. Erickson wants “bloody purges” in the Republican Conference of members such as Rep. Don Young (Alaska), whom Erickson calls an “earmarxist” for having secured millions in federal funds for projects such as the so-called Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska and the Coconut Road highway in Florida.

That hard-line stance has activists at odds with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” that the Oklahoma congressman would remain as NRCC chairman through November. Support for Cole from Boehner and the rest of the House leadership shows that it’s “probably time for the younger folks,” Erickson said. He suggested that youthful GOP congressmen such as Eric Cantor (Va.) and Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), both of whom are earmark hawks, be given leadership roles.

Unsurprisingly, Democratic blogs have been delighted by the dissension among House Republicans and their usual supporters.

Swing State Project, a blog focused on congressional races from the 2004 swing states, started the “Tom Cole Deathwatch” in March, after Democrat Bill Foster won former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) old seat in a special election. The blog updated the “deathwatch” last week, asking readers to guess how long it would be before Cole was ousted.

The optimism among liberal blogs over this year’s congressional races is in stark contrast to the mood of conservatives.

“Unless congressional Republicans plan on making a dramatic course correction on Iraq withdrawal, SCHIP [the State Children’s Health Insurance Program], healthcare reform and fair trade, they’re in for a world of hurt in November,” said James Lambert, one of Swing State Project’s editors.