Feehery: The right choice to lead the Conference

Feehery: The right choice to lead the Conference
© Greg Nash

My old boss, former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.), had a far more conservative voting record that his successor, former Speaker of the House Newt GingrichNewton (Newt) Leroy GingrichMORE (R-Ga.).

Bob was rock-ribbed Republican, a fiscal conservative, and as a veteran of World War II, a strong patriot. But he wasn’t a rhetorical bomb thrower and back in the early 1990s, House Republicans wanted somebody who would stand up to the Democrats and fight hard to take back the majority.

And so, they went with Newt Gingrich.

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There was never a head-to-head vote. Bob announced his retirement before the 1994 elections.

Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikStefanik calls Cheney 'Pelosi pawn' over Jan. 6 criticism GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger GOP's Banks burnishes brand with Pelosi veto MORE (R-N.Y.) won’t be directly running against Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyStefanik calls Cheney 'Pelosi pawn' over Jan. 6 criticism Kinzinger primary challenger picks up Cawthorn endorsement The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Officers give grueling, horrific accounts of Jan. 6 MORE (R-Wyo.) Wednesday when the Republican Conference makes its decision on who should lead it as Conference chair. There will be a two-step process, where first the Conference will decide to remove its current chairman and then it will decide who to replace her with.

Some conservatives have grumbled that Stefanik’s voting record is far more moderate than Cheney’s voting record. But that is not the question at hand.

Instead, conservatives should be asking who is the right choice to lead the Conference at this critical juncture? Who understands the desires of the Republican base? Who will be the better team player? Who can offer better advice to Republican leaders about how they should navigate the tricky political waters in the Biden/Pelosi era?

It is no surprise that Stefanik’s voting record is more moderate than Cheney. Elise represents a district in upstate New York while Cheney represents Wyoming. But there are conservative reasons why Stefanik voted against the leadership position. For example, she voted against the Trump tax plan, not because it cut taxes too much but because it didn’t cut taxes enough, especially for her constituents, who pay the highest state and local taxes in the country.

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I don’t have anything against Cheney, and indeed thought she would have been an interesting choice for Speaker in a couple of years. But she has morphed into a Never Trumper. The Republican Party is not the party of the Never Trumper. Sure, there are some elements of the party, maybe 15 percent, who don’t like President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt MORE and were happy to see him lose. But that is not where the heart and soul of the GOP is today. And the more they see the somnolent, yet woke, presidency of Joe BidenJoe BidenBriahna Joy Gray: White House thinks extending student loan pause is a 'bad look' Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Former New York state Senate candidate charged in riot MORE, the more they embrace the former President. 

Donald Trump is no Douglas MacArthur. He is no old soldier who is going to just fade away. And having a member of the Republican congressional leadership lead the charge against him is not sustainable.

Stefanik became an avid defender of Donald Trump during the impeachment “witch hunt” as he liked to call it. And that defense of the president has served her well back home. She won her election in 2020 with close to 60 percent of the vote.

Elise, should she assume the role of Conference chairman, will be the highest-ranking millennial in the Congress. She is at the leading edge of a generation that is slipping away from the Republican Party and will continue to slip away without a radical course correction.

As the lead communicator for House Republicans, her job won’t be to just communicate a message based on policies manufactured elsewhere. Her job, with her seat at the leadership table, is to help mold those policies so that they better reflect the values and the desires of a generation of voters who have lose faith in free-market capitalism.

Stefanik has already been a leader when it comes to attracting more women to leadership roles in the Republican Party. Her worked paid off in the last election, when Republican women won more seats in Congress than ever before.

Cheney and her allies have been singularly focused on relitigating the events of Jan. 6. To be clear, that wasn’t a great moment in our national history. But most voters want to move on. They want a Republican Party that isn’t focused on past events but rather on three key things. Get people back to work. Get kids back in school, without masks. And get government under control.

Stefanik is smart enough to understand what Republican voters want. She is the right choice to lead the Republican Conference as its chairman. 

Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).