Race for Republican Speaker rare chance to unify party for election

Race for Republican Speaker rare chance to unify party for election
© Greg Nash

Nearly all Republicans campaign on core Republican positions popular with the GOP base. But when members get to Washington, they can’t follow through because party leadership governs in accordance with the establishment and special interests.

The GOP base is more informed and organized than ever. These voters are tired of the old game of bait-and-switch and are hopping mad about it. This led to the rise of the Tea Party to win a majority in the House in 2010, the ouster of Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate Race for Republican Speaker rare chance to unify party for election Scalise allies upset over Ryan blindside on McCarthy endorsement MORE in his primary in July 2014, the growth of the Freedom Caucus, winning the majority in the Senate in November 2014, the forced retirement of Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFormer top Treasury official to head private equity group GOP strategist Steve Schmidt denounces party, will vote for Democrats Zeal, this time from the center MORE in 2015, and in 2016 the nomination and subsequent election of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN analyst Kirsten Powers: Melania's jacket should read 'Let them eat cake' CNN's Cuomo confronts Lewandowski over 'womp womp' remark Sessions says FBI agent Peter Strzok no longer has his security clearance MORE.

The message from the voters has been clear and getting more forceful: Govern as you campaign. Under Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPolitical figures pay tribute to Charles Krauthammer House approves five-year farm bill House postpones vote on compromise immigration bill MORE’s leadership, Congress passed tax reform and rolled back some regulations. These are popular accomplishments. But the same GOP majority failed to repeal and replace ObamaCare. Worse, the first abysmal draft of that law was written by and for the insurance lobby and forced on the base. Republicans in Congress have failed to fund the wall or even make a serious try for it.

Then, to the horror of the GOP base and to the delight of the Democrats and the swamp, they passed the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill. These failures have led to a possible blue wave in the midterms, a flood of retirements, more contestable seats, and now the announced retirement of Ryan. He and the likely candidates for House Speaker have all said their top priority is reelecting the GOP majority, but none have yet acknowledged why the GOP majority is in doubt in the first place.

Two popular theories are thrown around by the mainstream media and Democratic surrogates as self-evident truths. Both are wrong. The favorite is that this is Trump’s fault. But a Congress with an 11 percent approval rating should not be misled to blame a president who holds a 40 percent to 50 percent and above approval rating, which is generally higher in the red districts the party needs to hold.

Another popular theory is that the caucus is too ideologically diverse. Properly managed, a big tent is a feature, not a bug. Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDems, health groups demand immigrant children be quickly reunited with families Hardline immigration bill fails in the House Pelosi: GOP immigration bill is 'a compromise with the devil' MORE has managed to maintain discipline in her diverse caucus, whereas Ryan has been unable to bring the Tuesday Group, the Study Group and the Freedom Caucus together, except on rare occasion.

That’s a lack of political skill. The weakness at the heart of the 11 percent approval rating and the generic ballot deficit is that BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFormer top Treasury official to head private equity group GOP strategist Steve Schmidt denounces party, will vote for Democrats Zeal, this time from the center MORE and Ryan have both marginalized, and often vilified, conservative members and the GOP party base, choosing instead to govern for the benefit of entrenched interests. Members should hold town halls in their districts and ask those in attendance to share what they want to see get done. Without arguing, they should listen and write down the top 20 items.

When they get back to Washington, listen to what the lobbyists, fundraisers and experts want to see get done. Write down their top 20 items then compare the two lists to what Boehner and Ryan have been prioritizing. The problem is that the lists don’t match. Base priorities only get lip service during campaigns and token show votes in Washington. On the votes that matter, the focus is on the wrong list. If this doesn’t change, no amount of campaign money can save the majority.

The race for House Speaker within the GOP caucus is an opportunity to stop the chicanery and meld the GOP into a coherent and effective caucus that doesn’t abandon or ridicule the priorities of its voters but rather fights for them. The next Republican Speaker needs to stop blaming conservatives groups in Congress like the Freedom Caucus for refusing to abandon voter priorities.

Instead, the next Speaker needs to start with policy that is in alignment with the base and move to the middle to pick up votes. The money will help close the deal with the moderate pragmatists. Starting in the middle, where the money is, and working a moderate policy out to the right where the members are ideologically committed to the base priorities doesn’t work. This only alienates the base further.

A leader worthy of becoming Speaker should lay out a vision to govern from the base out, with a grassroots focus and effective campaign strategy that demonstrates alignment with voters. That will drive enthusiasm and turnout. Ryan has referenced his fundraising prowess as the primary justification for staying on. That’s a reflection of his failure to understand why the GOP majority is in trouble in the first place.

The necessary change to keep the majority in the 2018 midterms starts with making good on base priorities, not donor priorities. When donors see the voter sentiment swinging behind the GOP, they will support the effort. Everyone likes a winner. The sooner the next leader steps forward with this vision and this plan, the better.

Dan Palmer is a Republican donor and conservative political strategist. He served as executive director of United We Stand, planned the potential transition of Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate Gang of Four to meet next week on immigration Live coverage: High drama as hardline immigration bill fails, compromise vote delayed Trump renews call to end filibuster amid immigration furor MORE, and supported the campaigns of Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyTrump mocks 'elites' at campaign rally Rally crowd chants 'CNN sucks' after Trump rips media Trump's America fights back MORE and Donald Trump. Find him on Facebook @RealDanPalmer.