This month's midterm elections represented a political windfall for Republicans, and many right-wingers see the victories as a mandate for smaller government and a public rejection of the Obama administration. What the GOP does with its control of the House remains to be seen, but, says former State Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr., it’s fortunate for conservatives that Republicans didn’t win the Senate as well.
“I think the best thing that happened for Republicans, from a political position, is that they did not win the Senate,” Brinkman says.
One of the leaders of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), Brinkman says in 1994, when Republicans won both the Senate and the House, President Bill Clinton triangulated the two houses against one another to the Democrats' advantage.
“But if (U.S. Rep. John) Boehner does it right, he can triangulate them (the Democratic Senate and president),” Brinkman adds. “The odd man out has a tremendous amount of power.”
Brinkman expects that Boehner, who will be Speaker of the House once the 112th Congress takes office on Jan. 3, won't use his position to garner his district special earmarks. He says Boehner, unlike many of his fellow representatives, is committed to opposing pork barrel politics.
Fulfilling the conservative agenda
Gene Beaupre, director for government relations at Xavier University, says U.S. Sen.-elect Rob Portman, whose impressive resume includes serving in two cabinet positions under George W. Bush — as U. S. trade representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget — has earned a reputation as an approachable and diplomatic politician.
“I don’t think you can underestimate the key role that a freshman Sen. Portman will play,” Beaupre says. “I don’t think there is another U.S. senator that has been elected with his credentials. Internationally, he’s got contacts all over the world.”
The next two years will likely be marked by gridlock and preparations for the 2012 presidential campaign, which Beaupre says began three to four months before the 2010 elections.
As for Congress, the public agenda is at least ostensibly one of fiscal conservatism.
“I don’t think anybody will vote on an issue that can be interpreted as a fiscally conservative issue without thinking about that reality,” Beaupre says, who went on to imagine the machinations of a congressman’s mind: “‘Every time I put my card in to vote, I think about how the opposition is going to use this vote against me.’ They’re never far from the next election.”
Steve Chabot (pictured), who was elected to represent Ohio's 1st Congressional District after being ousted in 2008, certainly must feel that he has a mandate to pursue a conservative agenda, Beaupre adds. But he has to be able to prove he fulfilled this agenda.
“The mantra going through the Republican Party right now is that they’re happy being the party of ‘no,’” Beaupre says. “I’d be asking, ‘Is that enough?’”
And Beaupre says Boehner has undergone a metamorphosis in the past two years.
He is most comfortable in the caucus rooms and in the back of the House chamber,” Beaupre says. “He is a master of that. What changed somewhere short of two years ago is that he really became an outfront spokesperson for the party. He sought the microphone. Part of being Speaker is to have a platform, and he has a big one.”
A major task for the Republicans and Boehner, he adds, will be to work to disassemble the health care legislation piece by piece, seeking vulnerable components of what he calls “a hugely complex piece of legislation. ... You can’t just burn the whole thing down.”
Locally, Chris Monzel’s election to the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners will be a move toward a fiscally conservative, smaller government agenda, meaning lots of cuts, Beaupre says.
“He’ll see opportunities and vote according to that flag,” he says. “The (new) Republican majority will exercise a lot of power. The challenge will be to execute that conservative fiscal agenda and not step on their constituents. Somehow or another they’ve got to keep their conservative constituents happy and still have a black budget, not a red budget. I don’t think it’s going to be a fun time.”
Redrawing the battle lines
This was also the year of the U.S. Census, which means redistricting will begin in the New Year. Nationally, 19 state houses, including Ohio, switched from Democratic to GOP control in the last elections. And Ohio stands to lose at least one and possibly two congressional seats due to reapportionment.
No one would speak for the record about any specifics on how Ohio’s lines might change, but a Google News search on the topic reveals some buzz about the possibility of the Republicans dropping Jean Schmidt’s district and splitting it between Chabot and Boehner.
National Journal notes that in Ohio “there are too few Democratic-held districts to effectively slice them up in a way that eliminates two seats while maintaining Republican advantages in the districts the GOP holds. … The safer alternative could be to actually eliminate a Republican backbencher — Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) and Reps.-elect Bill Johnson (R) and Bob Gibbs (R) are the most frequently-mentioned names.”
Dan LaBotz, who ran as a Socialist in the race for the U.S. Senate seat that Portman won, describes Schmidt as a loose cannon with a weak hold on her district. Whatever happens, she’ll be interesting to watch, he says.
As for the Tea Party influence in the Republican win, LaBotz says the elections of typical conservatives like Chabot “shows there’s something fraudulent about the Tea Party and their endorsements. Chabot is not a right-wing radical. He’s just a conservative Republican.”
The elections of so many Republicans throughout the nation says less about the Republicans than it does about Democrats, LaBotz says.
“Perhaps the Democrats could have rallied, but they failed on all counts,” he says. “The corporations dominate both of the two parties. And it’s very clear that the Republicans and the Democrats are going after Social Security and Medicaid and the rest of the social safety net with scissors.”