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The Three Stooges Go to Washington

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So Tom DeLay is gone and the GOP needs a new House Majority Leader. It’s a plum job that not just anyone can do. The basic responsibility of the job is to organize votes to pass the legislation your party wants to support. That means you’ve got to have some time on the hill, some deal making and even arm-twisting skill and enough personality to hold the occasional press conference and not get laughed at.

The GOP has almost 300 Congressmen to pick from, so they ought to be able to come up with some truly outstanding candidates to replace DeLay. I bet they have some guys with real charisma and great original ideas to guide the House on to new and better things. Surely their new Majority Leader will be their best and brightest. Right?

Well, apparently there’s a dearth of great leaders among the hundreds of Republicans in Congress, because all they could find were three uniquely undistinguished clones: John Boehner (OH), Roy Blunt (MO) and John Shadegg (AZ).

Boehner and Blunt are so similar on the issues that if you compare their ratings from different interest groups they are literally within 5 or fewer percentage points on every issue and usually rated exactly the same. They both get a 20 from the NEA, a 92 from the NRA, 100 from Americans for Tax Reform, 0 from the ACLU and a -3 from NORML. But excitingly, on the Liberty Index from the Republican Liberty Caucus they are a dramatic 3 points apart. Boehner has a 69 average and Blunt has a 66. Both have a good number of terms under their belt. Boehner has 8 and Blunt has 5. Both have basically the same positions on major issues. They’re for the Iraq War, against abortion, against eminent domain seizures and for the Bush tax cuts. Boehner’s recent pet issues are education and protecting pensions. Blunt’s pet issue is agriculture. Both candidates also received substantial contributions from controversial lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The big differences between these two virtual clones are in their backgrounds more than their voting records. Boehner’s from the north and Blunt’s from the south. Boehner is a Catholic (very fashionable right now) and Blunt is a Baptist (always suspect). Boehner is chairman of the Education Committee and Vice Chairman of the Agriculture Committee. Blunt holds no legislative committee positions, but he’s Majority Whip which means he’s acting Majority Leader right now and sort of puts him on deck for the job if things were actually done that way. In fact, only two Majority Whips have become Majority Leader in the last 100 years.

Boehner and Blunt are stamped out of the same mold as a lot of the ‘new’ Republicans who hold remarkably uniform views, either genuinely or more likely because that’s what they need to do in order to get along with the party leadership and advance themselves. Of the two my guess would be that Boehner should be the frontrunner for Majority Leader because of his greater experience and committee positions, but many think that Blunt has the better claim on the job as Majority Whip. Overall they may be pretty evenly matched as well as politicially indistinguishable.

Now what about John Shadegg. I’m dealing with him separately because he’s kind of a dark horse. Not very dark. More of a light gray. But he is at least marginally different from the two other candidates. On the issues the differences are tiny. He may be a hair less absolute on abortion and civil rights issues, but he’s identical on the drug war, Iraq, gun rights and most other issues, both good and bad. He’s in his 7th term and he’s on the Energy and Commerce Committee and chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, so he has some experience – and that last committee, although not legislative makes him part of the party leadership group that works with the Majority Leader. There are things about Shadegg which are pretty scary. He’s a serious drug warrior and very gung ho on the War in Iraq, but on important issues like taxes and spending he’s much more appealing.

Shadegg joined the race late and is selling himself as an outsider and the truth is that his biggest asset is that he’s one of the few people on the Hill who isn’t in trouble because of contributions from Jack Abramoff. That puts him in a pretty special category and gives him legitimacy out of proportion to his standing in other respects. By comparison Blunt and Boehner are among the most suspect Abramoff associates.

The other appealing thing about Shadegg is that he’s a member of the Congressional Liberty Committee, an idealistic group headed up by Rep. Ron Paul whose members at least nominally sign on to some basic principles of believing in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and limited government. It’s by no means a guarantee that he’s a good guy, but it’s a suggestion that his heart is at least in the right place.

Shadegg has also made very clear that he’s offering himself as a reform candidate. In announcing his candidacy he said:

I believe that a majority of Republicans in the House understand the need for real, thorough reform…We must renew our commitment to the principles that won us a majority in the first place: fiscal discipline, smaller government, lower taxes, a strong national defense, returning power to the states, and greater personal freedom

That’s a pretty serious statement – even inflamatory – and if he were to get elected and follow through on it that would mean an important new direction for the Republican controlled Congress.

If I could magically pick a Majority Leader it would probably be none of these three guys, but from this field Shadegg clearly offers the most potential to implement the kind of changes which the party desperately needs. A Shadegg victory would also send a very clear message to the country and to the White House that the GOP is serious about moving in a more positive direction and that ‘business as usual’ is over. It’s a message they really need to send if they want to strengthen their position for 2006. The experts still seem to be putting their money on Blunt, but Shadegg has been getting some important endorsements and seems to be building momentum with the vote still two weeks away.

If you want to get more details on the three contenders, check out their voting records and ratings from interest groups on Project Vote Smart.

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About Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle is Executive Director of the Texas Liberty Foundation, Chairman of the Center for Foreign and Defense Policy, South Central Regional Director for the Republican Liberty Caucus and an advisory board member at the Coalition to Reduce Spending. He was Texas State Director for the Gary Johnson Presidential campaign, an adviser to the Ted Cruz senatorial campaign, Communications Director for the Travis County Republican Party and National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. He has also consulted on many political campaigns, specializing in messaging. Before focusing on political activism, he owned or was a partner in several businesses in the publishing industry and taught college-level history for 20 years.
  • Maurice

    “I believe that a majority of Republicans in the House understand the need for real, thorough reform…We must renew our commitment to the principles that won us a majority in the first place: fiscal discipline, smaller government, lower taxes, a strong national defense, returning power to the states, and greater personal freedom”.

    Wow. That is as inspiring as anything Newt Gingrich ever said.

  • Shadegg can certainly talk the talk. We’ll see if he gets a chance to follow through on any of it. I have to agree that given the sad state of the GOP in congress these days I also yearn for the good old days of Newt’s leadership.


  • Alice

    I am shocked, shocked… to learn that lobbyists are bribing our public officials…

    Can this really be true?

  • Alice

    It can’t be true… we would have heard about it before now…

  • It’s all in how you define the word ‘bribe’.


  • Alice

    It’s no mystery,

    A bribe is something, such as money or a favor, offered or given to a person in a position of trust to influence that person’s views or conduct.

  • Dave Nalle

    Ah, but aren’t campaign contributions money given to candidates because you expect them to vote a particular way that their opponent isn’t as likely to vote? That’s awfully close to a bribe too, isn’t it?


  • What the Republicans really need to get their priorities in order is a major smackdown in this year’s election. Giving up control of the House or Senate will definitely force some re-evaluations.

    Dave, I know you’re no fan of Democrats being in control (or Democrats in general) but I think a few years of Democrats controlling at least one of the branches of Congress could actually strengthen Republicans.

  • Probably true, Scott. The government does the least damage when both parties control one of the houses of the legislature.

    I don’t think the Dems are going to get control of either house though, Scott. There aren’t enough Senate seats up for grabs for them to pull it off and the GOP has too much of an edge in the House.

    The other problem is that if the democrats get control of one house it means that if Bush actually manages to introduce any of the things he promised in 2004 they’ll go nowhere at all, which would be tragic. We need social security privatization and tax reform desperately.

    This could all change if the Democrats came up with ANY kind of positive message or agenda, but that seems to be contrary to their nature.


  • I think Democrats will at least gain seats in both house and senate. Whether it will be enough to control one of those, who knows. As Charlie Cook pointed out, even if the Democrats gain seats but not a majority the Republicans retain power but won’t have a real working majority with which to get anything done anyway. And if Democrats do grab one or both houses, it will be narrowly and they will not have a working majority either.

    Two more years of gridlock basically is what I’m predicting.

  • Dave Nalle

    Even if the Dems got a majority in both houses it wouldn’t give them absolute control.

    But the bad news no matter what is that the American people are not going to get full scale reform of taxes and social security which we were promised.


  • Alice

    “American people are not going to get full scale reform of taxes and social security which we were promised.”



  • lumpy

    I remember that promise too.

    But what worries me more is that some of the tax cuts might be repealed sticking it to the middle class yet again in the great democrat tradition.

  • Well, if you’re worried about tax relief and fiscal responsibility Shadegg is the only one who seems at all serious about changing the irresponsible direction congress has been going for the last few years.