How To Turn '08 Into '94, By Newt Gingrich
An Open Memorandum to House Republicans
By Newt Gingrich
Posted Nov 15, 2006
RE: Reflections on being back in the minority and how to become a governing majority.
As we think about the 2006 election and where House Republicans go from here, I want to suggest a few principles and actions that might be helpful.
When I was first elected in 1978, House Republicans had been in the minority for 24 years. Despite our best efforts to win enough seats to gain the majority, it took us 16 more years. If we do not want to return to a possible 40 years in the minority, it is essential that we spend time now thinking about the lessons of 2006 and what has to be done. If we do this, we can accept 2006 as a corrective but necessary interruption in our pursuit of a governing majoritarian party.
In 1946 and 1952, the Democrats found themselves in the minority. On both occasions it only lasted two years. They found the methods to recover, even though in the second case they were operating under a very popular Republican President Eisenhower.
When the Republicans lost their brief majority status in 1954, they could not recover it two years later, despite the fact that Eisenhower was winning a massive re-election. Similarly, they could not regain the majority even in the landslides of 1972 and 1984.
There are some key questions and key principles to keep in mind as we work through the process of earning back the majority.
1. Republicans lost the 2006 election. Do not hide from this. Do not shrug it off. Our team lost. Why did we lose? What do we have to do differently?
2. Are House Republicans electing a leadership team to be an effective minority or a leadership team to regain the majority? These are very different roles and require very different considerations, very different strategies and very different leaders.
3. To regain majority status, we have to focus on the country first and on Washington and the Congress second. If we are responsive to the country, they will support us and return us to power. If we are focused on action in Washington (whether White House action, legislative action or lobbyist and PAC action), we are probably entering a long period in minority status.
4. Are House Republicans electing leaders to represent House Republican values and strategies to the White House or leaders to represent the White House to House Republicans? Over the next two years, House Republicans and the White House will have very different institutional interests and very different time horizons. If we want to regain majority status, we have to focus on the building of a grassroots coalition which supports real change in Washington.
5. From a House Republican standpoint, the center of gravity should be the 54 Blue Dog Democrats. If we and the Blue Dogs can find a handful of key things to work on together, we can almost certainly create a majority on the floor just as the Reagan Republicans and conservative Democrats did in 1981. Bipartisanship can be conservative and back bench rather than liberal and establishment leadership defined. What did the Blue Dogs promise to get elected? What was the nature of their coalition back home? They give us the best opportunity to create grassroots efforts to pass solid legislation. Remember, the liberals will find it very hard to write a budget acceptable to the grassroots that elected the Blue Dogs. We have real opportunities if we are creative.
6. House Republicans should establish new principles for appointing people to the Appropriations Committee. Nothing infuriated the Republican base more than the continued process of earmarks, set asides and incumbent-protection pork. There is no reason for the House Republican conference to reappoint a single appropriator unless they agree to be part of the Republican team. First establish the principles of representing Republican values on appropriations and then ask each appropriator to commit themselves to living by those principles or accept appointment to another committee. There is a legitimate role for set asides in the legislative-executive branch process, but there is no reason to give the executive branch a blank check. There has to be some limits, and those limits should be set by the Conference and not by the committee members.
7. All of this will take time. As rapidly as possible there should be a three-day member-only retreat to discuss issues like this and to set strategies for the next two years. These kinds of decisions should be a key part of thinking through who should lead House Republicans for the next Congress and how they should lead.
One Last Note
Do not underestimate Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi and her team. She and Rahm Emmanuel finally put together a disciplined recruiting system that allowed a lot of Democrats to run as conservatives, even while they were planning to elect the most liberal Speaker in history. Pelosi is a tough, smart, disciplined professional. She is not going to be easy to beat, and she and her team are going to work hard to keep you in the minority for a decade or more.
This is going to be hard work and will require a lot of dedication and a lot of thought.
With best wishes for a return to majority status as quickly as possible.