Mark Alexander / March 3, 2006

Speaker of the House…Nancy Pelosi?

Kind of makes the eyes water, doesn’t it – but it’s not idle speculation. In eight short months, 435 House seats, and 33 in the Senate, will be subject to the rigors of democratic selection, and from this vantage point, short of some major alteration of current trends, Republicans are in trouble.

In the Senate, there are 15 Republican and 17 Democrat seats being contested (in addition to the one occupied by switch-hitter Jim Jeffords). Republicans are likely to hold their majority here, though it may be trimmed by two seats.

In the House, however, where Republicans hold a lead of 231-202 (counting Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders among the Demos, of course, and not counting two vacancies), the GOP’s inside tracking numbers indicate that Republicans may lose more than 20 seats. Democrats need to pick up only 16 seats to take over the House.

Notably, the same erosion of confidence will take its toll on governors this fall. Currently, there are 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats, but there are 36 gubernatorial elections this year, and Democrats will likely pick up between two and five of those seats.

Alas, Republicans in the White House and Congress have so misspent their majority political capital that they may well lose their party’s Beltway triad, and their majority of state executives.

How did the Republican party come to find itself in this sorry and shameful state? While there are many contributing factors, the short answer is this: President George Bush and his congressional majorities have squandered the opportunity to deliver on a conservative domestic agenda – and in the process, have all but completely alienated their conservative base.

Since the President’s reelection in 2004, this column has noted that, in the absence of a robust conservative domestic agenda during his second term, the House would be at risk in the ‘06 midterm elections, and the presidency, likewise, in '08. Yes, President Bush got high marks as Commander in Chief in the Long War against terror. Domestically, with the help of Congress, he has made good on his commitments to nominate constitutional constructionists to the Supreme Court and pass modest tax cuts – but his performance, and that of the Republican Congress, declines precipitously from there.

Conservatives expected President Bush and his congressional majorities to lead the charge on behalf of individual liberty, the restoration of constitutionally-constrained limits on government, and the promotion of free enterprise and traditional American values, as outlined in The Patriot’s Statement of Principles. But they have not.

Increasingly, Americans can’t distinguish Republicans from Democrats, on key issues. One can still discern the principled ideological differences between the most conservative and liberal members of Congress, but when it comes to domestic policy, the “great middle” of the legislative branch falls into the “distinction without a difference” category.

Under Republican leadership, the size and regulatory role of the central government has grown largely unabated since President Bush took office, and his fiscal budget for 2007 reflects spending increases over his tenure of almost 50 percent more than Bill Clinton’s last budget. This is disgraceful.

Republicans have so demoralized their conservative base that even the most staunchly ideological conservatives are suggesting that a Democrat-controlled House may be necessary to remind Republicans why, precisely, we voted them into office.

That is not to say that all Republicans have neglected their conservative base. Some Republicans are conservative, and chief among them is Rep. Mike Pence, who chairs a group of 100 House conservatives who, as “The Republican Study Committee,” are charting a course to maintain their majority in '06 – and beyond.

Rep. Pence and his fellow conservatives have rallied around principles that he outlined in a speech last fall, “Another Time for Choosing,” picking up the central theme of Ronald Reagan’s famous 1964 speech “A Time For Choosing.”

This week, the RSC issued its top ten legislative priorities for 2006 – and it’s high time for President Bush to sign on. “As the challenging midterm elections approach, House conservatives recognize that you cannot beat a national trend without a national agenda,” says Rep. Pence. “As the majority of the majority, House conservatives believe that the remainder of the 109th Congress should be dedicated to affirming our commitment to limited government, fiscal discipline and traditional moral values. While this is not an exhaustive list, the fiscal and social policy reforms included in the RSC Top Ten compose the nucleus of issues that minted this majority. Acting on the RSC Top Ten is the best hope for renewing the confidence of the American people in our commitment to fiscal discipline and reform.”

The RSC’s legislative fiscal priorities are as follows: Make the Tax Cuts Permanent, including the repeal of the marriage-tax penalty and the death tax and pass fundamental tax reform; pass Budget Process Reform, which includes budgeting for emergencies with a rainy day fund, instituting a sunset commission for federal programs, instituting a constitutional line-item veto, and making the budget resolution carry the force of law; pass another Deficit Reduction Bill in the form of budget reconciliation, to rein in autopilot spending, which has risen from 25 percent of all federal spending in 1963 to 54 percent today, and is expected to reach nearly 60 percent in 2014; pass Ethics Reform that requires transparency and earmark reform that permits Members of Congress to strike earmarks on the House floor; pass legislation that stops the raid on the Social Security Trust Fund and allows Americans to own a Personal Social Security Account; pass a Balanced Budget Amendment to put our fiscal house in order; and offset all emergency supplemental spending with other spending reductions, and offset all new programs with simultaneous, equivalent reductions in, or eliminations of, existing programs.

The RSC’s legislative social priorities are as follows: Pass the Marriage Protection Amendment, to ensure that marriage, the union of a man and a woman as husband and wife, is not redefined by activist judges; defend the Sanctity of Human Life, which includes banning all human cloning, passing the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, promoting ethical adult-stem-cell research, and preventing federal funding for destructive embryonic-stem-cell research; and pass Protections for Religious Freedom, such as the Pledge of Allegiance, the Ten Commandments, and religious expression in the public square.

To be sure, the RSC’s task would be much easier with President Bush leading the charge – if only he could. Unfortunately, Bush is no longer even on the ropes – he is down and almost out.

How did that happen?

The President has been under constant fire from Democrats for four years over the conduct of our campaign against terror, but Democrats, despite their best anti-American efforts, could not undermine Bush as Commander in Chief – until last summer, that is, when he struck out.

Strike one was signing the bloated highway bill, which became symbolic of Bush’s failure to contain government spending. The second strike was his perceived failure in taking charge of the Katrina catastrophe – perception being what it is. (It was probably not advisable to be on the Left Coast political circuit the day a Cat 5 hurricane is making landfall.) Strike three was his stupefying nomination of Harriet Miers.

Over the course of a few short months, George Bush carelessly undermined his own foundation, his conservative political base.

Seizing the moment, Democrat strategists calculated that they could retake Congress and the White House over the next two years if they could keep Bush on the mat; keeping him down keeps the Republican Party down. Their strategy to do so has been very well executed.

Here is the line of attack, which will be refreshed, ad nauseum, between now and midterm elections: Undermine Bush’s standing, and, thus, that of Republicans, on national security/defense. Continue to insist that Bush lied about WMD in Iraq and now they are in a civil war; Insist he authorized NSA spying on U.S. citizens; Insist he is outsourcing our national security; Insist he is soft on border and port security; and finally, insist that not only is he a failure as Commander in Chief, but he does not care about the American people – Bush is the real hurricane that hit Louisiana and Mississippi.

In 1992, Ronald Reagan said of his legacy, “Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts.”

The Democrats are experts at appealing to “worst fears and doubts.” If the President can’t get off the mat, the RSC’s agenda may not get out of the gate, and we will be hearing a lot more from “Speaker Pelosi.”

“The natural cure for an ill-administration…is a change of men.” Quoth Alexander Hamilton

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