The next GOP leader needs political acumen — and a whole lot more

The next GOP leader needs political acumen — and a whole lot more
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The recent announcement by House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanInterior fast tracks study of drilling's Arctic impact: report Dems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia National Dems make play in Ohio special election MORE that he’ll retire at the end of the year has created a vacuum. The political world, as with the natural world, abhors vacuums.

The swirl of discussion about who will be the next speaker, and how the new Republican leadership team will be configured, continues to sweep through the corridors of power.

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That Republicans once again are preparing to elect leadership is a distinct difference from their counterparts across the aisle. Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTop Ethics Dem calls for Nielsen to resign Dems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia GOP looks to blunt Dems’ attacks on rising premiums MORE has led her caucus for a decade and a half, both as speaker and minority leader. Republicans have had three leaders during that time.

 

It’s nothing new. Joe Martin, the last Republican speaker prior to Newt Gingrich’s ascendancy, lost his GOP leadership to Charles Halleck who, in turn, was knocked out by Gerald Ford.

When Ford left the Congress to assume the vice presidency, John Rhodes of Arizona took over as speaker. Although he was elected by acclamation, it didn’t take long before a restive GOP forced him out in favor of his whip, Bob Michel of Illinois.

One of Michel’s key deputies, Gingrich, led a band of younger, more aggressive conservatives in showing Michel the door. Then Gingrich, who took Republicans into the majority for the first time in four decades, had to survive a coup attempt from his own leadership, including John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFreedom Caucus members see openings in leadership Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Ex-lawmakers see tough job market with trade groups MORE, before ultimately resigning under pressure from his troops.

The series of internal events that culminated in the election of since-disgraced Dennis HastertJohn (Dennis) Dennis HastertFeehery: The long game Feehery: Crowley lost because he’s Irish Feehery: The moral high ground MORE is legend.  

BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFreedom Caucus members see openings in leadership Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Ex-lawmakers see tough job market with trade groups MORE’s election as speaker was unanimous, but again, controversy over his leadership forced him out. Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHouse leaders clash over resolution backing ICE House backs resolution expressing support for ICE House GOP reverses, cancels vote on Dem bill to abolish ICE MORE was the heir apparent, but couldn’t muster the support he felt was necessary to effectively lead his fractured caucus. Ultimately, Ryan was coaxed into the job he never really wanted.

Now that it’s Ryan’s turn to go, there are at least three possible scenarios that may lead to the next Republican leader.

The first is that all goes the way that Speaker Ryan envisions. He gets to remain as speaker for the rest of the session; Republicans maintain their majority in the November midterms and elect their leader as speaker of the House at the beginning of the 116th Congress.

Another possibility is that the Republican caucus, already fidgeting, decides not to wait for more than seven months with a lame duck leader and a leadership fight bubbling beneath. That would force the election of a speaker much sooner.

Finally there’s the very real possibility, no matter how distasteful to imagine, that Republicans will not retain the majority and instead will elect the minority leader.

Regardless, there are key qualities that Republicans must find in whomever will lead them.

First, he or she must be blessed with real political acumen and a like — if not love — for the politics of the job. That means they must be prepared to do the daily hard work required of effective leaders. 

It requires regularly going to the unending series of meetings with various factions within the party to hear them, and to deliver the message of what can and can’t be done. That’s necessary to cobble together and hold a caucus unified enough to be a governing majority.

The new leader must forge a conservative agenda that recognizes that overspending has put the nation in a perilous position. Getting government spending under control and revving up the engines of economic growth are crucial to avoid fiscal disaster.

The ability to articulate that agenda in language that is simple, easy to understand, remember and repeat is vital for the party’s chief congressional spokesperson. Additionally, mediagenic looks and a charismatic personality wouldn’t hurt.

Trustworthiness and integrity are essential traits for the speaker. To be effective, the speaker must be an honest broker and deal-maker. Members need to instinctively trust their leader, know they are being told the truth and believe their viewpoints are being accurately represented in negotiations.

History has proven that being the Republican leader is a tough and short-tenured job. The next speaker must have the endurance to go more miles than his or her predecessors. He or she must be willing to tirelessly do the internal heavy lifting on a daily basis.

The next speaker will have to be more forceful. Chances are that, at the very least, there will be an even slimmer Republican majority. Discipline will be required to hold the caucus together on both policy and procedure.

Forming a broad conservative agenda together with the White House, working hard to coalesce an increasingly contentious caucus, delivering the message of hope and growth to the nation, and simply getting things done are the order of the day for the next speaker.

Ronald Reagan once was criticized for offering an answer that critics said was “too simplistic.” He retorted, “It is simple. It’s just not easy.”

The speakership has never been easy. The job is tougher now than it’s ever been. The things that need to be done are simple to state. Incredibly hard work will be required to accomplish them.

Charlie Gerow, first vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, has held national leadership positions in several Republican presidential campaigns. He began his career on the campaign staff of Ronald Reagan. A nationally recognized expert in strategic communications, he is CEO of Quantum Communications, a Pennsylvania-based media relations and issue advocacy firm.