Republicans smarting from a disappointing election want somebody to blame. Expectations, including mine, soared as the country was swamped with bad economic news. It wasn’t irrational exuberance, but it was still an understandable looking beyond the election in front of us to the GOP agenda, while looking past some obvious flaws in our own nominees. Lesson (re-) learned.
But this isn’t the GOP’s version of the Democrats’ 2016 shock, with stunned staffers sitting on curbs. It’s a prod to get better at party organisation and to master the rules as they exist if they cannot be changed (and they won’t be in California).
What the GOP needs is a quick vote of confidence in the experienced congressional hands who know how to position the party while landing some wins along the way to the big contest for the presidency in 2024.
GOP House leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) have critics within their caucuses, and some loud hecklers in the conservative media ecosystem, but both are canny, hard-working, competent coalition managers.
The question now should be, what’s the best route to a 2024 victory? It would simply be party suicide to depose either leader or even to spend much time trying.
McCarthy has been de facto leader of the GOP House since then-Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) announced retirement in April 2018.
McCarthy guided the Republicans to increased numbers in 2020. If he has gotten them over the top this year, it would be insane to begin shooting inside the tent. No leader of a caucus of 218 or more members can satisfy them all, but outliers should not control the vast majority that supports McCarthy.
McCarthy and his able ally Steve Scalise (La.) will need a whip who can work the caucus and the media while representing the growing veteran coalition within the GOP and young parents everywhere. Indiana’s Jim Banks makes the most sense, by far, for the job.
On the Senate side, every 10 years like clockwork the GOP forgets that candidates who win primaries are sometimes too far to the right for the general. Republicans cannot wish away independents. They cannot wish away young voters.
The Buckley Rule abides: Nominate the most conservative candidate who can win. The Republicans didn’t. McConnell warned them, but he did his part for those who were viable — J.D. Vance in Ohio (successfully) and Adam Laxalt in Nevada (the most disappointing loss of the election). In the closely divided chamber, the GOP should stick with the guy who had the guts and acumen to do what it took to secure a conservative Supreme Court majority.
Never get too high
The Senate Republicans, whether they total 49 or 50, will remain a check on the administration. Let the battle-tested McConnell chart the course to a last, legacy-burnishing turn at Senate majority leadership.
“Never get too high” should be a sign at GOP HQ. Right next to: “Never get too low or make decisions when angry or disappointed.” McCarthy and McConnell can guide the GOP back to governing power in 2024, and they will support whomever the party nominates in what promises to be another demolition derby presidential primary — just like 2016. As it should be.
And, by the way, gridlock isn’t inevitable, even with a tiny margin for the GOP. There may yet be legislative compromises to be had on the border and immigration.
Also possible is responsible, legislated regulation of Big Tech that doesn’t strangle innovation in artificial intelligence or quantum computing but does insist on Chinese Communist Party-controlled products such as TikTok being banned from our shores — finally. There is more to do, and to run on, and chaos in the caucuses won’t get it done.
Disappointment can be a reason for change, but not if it descends into bitterness. With the presidency in Democratic hands, we were always going to have divided power in D.C. Republicans ought to focus on making 2024 a second 1980, not a second 1964. It won’t take much to secure a House-Senate-White House trifecta. But it could also turn into a triple loss if activists and donors can’t turn away from party-splintering internecine battles.
Winning requires optimism and a spirited but not destructive 2024 primary season. And it requires patient, coherent progress on the Hill. That’s a goal best served by quick votes of confidence in McCarthy and McConnell.
Hugh Hewitt is a nationally syndicated radio host. He is also a professor at Chapman University School of Law, where he has taught constitutional law since 1996.