At a Monday conference hosted by Heritage Action, conservatives presented the policy agenda for a center-right Republican Party.
Over nearly eight hours, Sens. Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and Tim Scott, as well as Reps. Phil Roe, Tom Graves, Tom Price, Jim Jordan, Matt Salmon, Raul Labrador and Jeb Hensarling, joined with conservative scholars and leaders to present solutions for college, health care, marriage, energy, privacy, cronyism, education, federalism and, of course, the welfare state.
Republican leadership was conspicuously absent.
The Politico article on the conference opened with Speaker of the House John Boehner’s December declaration that conservative groups had “lost all credibility,” contending that the summit “is a sign that the conservative wing of the party heard Boehner loud and clear.”
But that just isn’t so.
“We heard House leadership,” one senior conservative Senate staffer told The Daily Caller. “We heard leadership, and the silence was deafening.”
Indeed, while conservatives presented their ideas at Heritage, Republican House leaders on Capitol Hill plotted to pass a clean debt-limit hike worth at least $17 trillion. The next day, Mr. Boehner joined with 199 Democrats (and only 27 other Republicans) to send the hike to the Senate.
And while the conservative conference went on, Republican Senate leaders on Capitol Hill plotted to play along with Mr. Boehner. On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joined with the Democrats and voted to send the hike to the president.
We guess D.C. will applaud Messrs. Boehner and McConnell for the strong leadership needed to buck their party. Finally, they were able “to get something done” — a meaningless D.C. trope that somehow insinuates passing legislation to allow for a $17 trillion debt is a good in and of itself.
“You’re not even going to clap for me for getting this monkey off our backs?” Mr. Boehner asked a lukewarm reception by Republican congressmen.
Clap for what? Despite their blustering over avoiding a government shutdown, Republican leadership knew this fight was coming for at least six months. That means they had six months to come up with a strategy. That means that what we saw this week — the complete and official abdication of all responsibility for our trillions in debt with nary a plea for mercy — is the best Republican leadership can do.
“The fight is on the debt limit,” Rep. Paul Ryan urged in September.
And when Messrs. Cruz and Lee led the defund fight in October, Republican leadership told them to hold their fire “for the more serious fight over the debt ceiling.”
“We, as a caucus, along with our Senate counterparts, are going to meet and discuss what it is we want to get out of the debt limit,” Mr. Ryan added in December. “We don’t want nothing out of this debt limit. We’re going to decide what it is we can accomplish out of this debt-limit fight.”
“We are angry,” a senior Senate aide associated with the recent policy effort told TheDC. “We are sickened. Whose side is leadership on?”
“GOP leadership is rudderless,” one conservative strategist also associated with effort told TheDC. “Every time GOP leaders try to assert themselves, they end up caving to Obama and present no agenda. Thankfully, conservatives aren’t waiting around and have a slate of positive policies to create a real mandate for reform.”
“They say they want to focus on Obamacare, then push amnesty,” the strategist continued. “They say they want to tackle spending and debt and then push bills to raise both. It’s been the conservative members, outside groups and grassroots that have shown the only real leadership since Obama was elected.”
“We’re very disappointed,” a representative for the Republican Study Committee told a closed-door meeting of conservatives. “Our members felt like their ideas weren’t included.”
We’re not suggesting that Republicans could have won the debt limit fight outright. They could not have. The GOP does not control the Senate or the presidency. Republicans need power to affect reform. They have a chance to gain that power in 2014 and 2016, but only if they show voters that they have the solutions to their problems.
“Our people look for a cause to believe in,” Gov. Ronald Reagan told a crowd of disillusioned conservatives gathered in Washington in March 1975 — 39 years ago next month. “Is it a third party we need, or is it a new and revitalized second party, raising a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people?”
Republicans can only show voters that they have the solutions to their problems if they draw bold lines by, for example, explaining why unending increases in our $17 trillion debt are a very real danger to our country’s future.
Republicans can only show voters that they have the solutions to their problems if they draw bold lines by, for example, running the liberals through the ringer for their demand that limits on their debts be suspended — something no household in this country has the option to do.
But Republican leadership couldn’t even draw those bold lines for a day or two.
As the second week of February 2014 draws to a close, where is the actual leadership on the right? Under Messrs. Boehner and McConnell’s pale pastels, or under the conservatives’ bold colors?
Yes, “the conservative wing of the party heard Boehner loud and clear.”
Mr. Boehner can expect to hear back.