Some Republicans fear winning back the House in 2010 could cost the party in 2012

Jon Ward Contributor
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Republicans have been engaging in some premature drape-measuring for a few months in anticipation of winning back control of the House of Representatives. Some top GOP aides privately admit that they got ahead of themselves.

Turns out, not all Republicans are rooting for their own to win the House.

“I want Republicans to make massive gains but I want them to fall one vote short of taking the House,” said Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary to President George W. Bush. “I want to see more evidence that Republicans are ready to govern. I want to see more substance, particularly on what spending they will cut.”

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who has been tasked with recruiting candidates by House Minority Leader John Boehner, confirmed that this view is held by numerous party operatives and leaders, though none in Congress.

“There are some Republicans out there that I respect, that are very, very bright, that root against us getting the majority,” McCarthy said at a recent lunch with reporters. “They believe it’s a two-cycle election. They believe they may get the White House. They think if we got the majority somehow it protects Obama.”

“My belief is, you grab it when it’s there,” he said.

A spokesman for Boehner, the Ohio Republican who would likely become House Speaker* if his party took control of the House, said America “literally cannot afford another two years of out-of-control spending and debt from a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president.”

“Our goal is to earn back the majority and use it to renew the drive for a smaller, less costly and more accountable government,” said Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith.

Fleischer’s desire for details on what spending cuts the GOP would push mirrors the attitudes of many in the conservative grassroots and in the Tea Party movement. Many independents also are eager to see their government be more fiscally responsible at all levels.

The political concern among some conservatives about a Republican takeover is two-fold: that it would produce a backlash by Tea Partiers against the GOP and that it might make it easier for President Obama to win a second term in office.

If the GOP came to power and was unable or unwilling to make the reforms on spending and reducing the deficit and debt demanded by an increasingly restless constituency, it could create a backlash in 2012.

The strongest negative reaction would likely come from the Tea Party. Leaders in that movement are ambivalent about whether or not Republicans regain the House back or not.

“My hope is that folks who believe in fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets take control of the House, and I fully expect that to happen. Tea Party Patriots judges candidates by principle, not party,” said Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest national groups in the movement.

Meckler said he hopes to see in Congress “a majority … who believe in Tea Party principles.” When asked if that might be a House with more Democrats than Republicans, he said yes and cited the defeat of West Virginia Democratic congressman Allan Mollohan in a primary last month by fellow Democrat Mike Oliviero, who ran on reducing the $13 trillion national debt.

“Oliverio, running on Tea Party principles, took out a 14-term, incumbent, big spending, liberal Democrat,” Meckler said.

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Some worry a Republican takeover of the House would make it easier for Obama to win reelection. A GOP majority would give the president a scapegoat to blame whenever things went south. The Republicans would own the economy along with the president, who has shown himself adept at shifting as much blame as possible onto the Bush administration and would no doubt do the same to the House GOP.

Fleischer noted that one year after their election, House Republicans would face a dilemma in the fall of 2011.

“What will Republicans and what will Republican presidential candidates do in the fall of 2011, with appropriations bills one or two months before Iowa caucuses?” Fleischer said. “House Republicans will have to compromise with Senate Democrats or shut down the government.”

“I see a terribly messy, internally fractious 2011 if Republicans take the House, and it could hurt our chances to win the presidency,” he said.

House Republican leadership aides argued that in the current political climate they would have leverage to extract major concessions on spending from Obama and a Democrat-controlled Senate. Voters are angry and fearful about government spending, they said, and are likely to grow more so.

As for having a better chance at a more lasting majority in 2012, GOP aides said that the party with control of the White House has unique advantages in a general election that would be hard for Republicans to overcome, namely that the president’s core constituencies are energized to vote in large numbers. If the president is not on the ballot, they said, that gives them a better chance to make big gains.

Charlie Cook of the Cook Report wrote Saturday that experts are mixed on whether Republicans will actually get to the 39 House seats they need to wrest control from the Democrats.

McCarthy said he has been told, “Kevin I’m rooting for you hard to go get to 37.”

Democratic National Committee spokesman Hari Sevugan said fear of holding the House is a sign that “Republicans aren’t interested producing solutions to America’s problems.”

“Their interest is only in solving their own political problems,” Sevugan said. “If Republicans aren’t interested doing their job as elected officials and governing, we’re sure the American people will save them the trouble.”

*This article originally stated Boehner would likely become majority leader.

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