Will 16 House GOP members keep John Boehner from a 1990 replay? Losing the base — and the House.
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The memo, inevitably, was leaked. And as Rollins well knew, House Republicans were already out there distancing themselves from Bush. One incumbent, with Bush sitting mere feet away at a fundraising breakfast in the congressman’s district, made a point of announcing his split with the President. Reported the Times: “Mr. Bush looked grim…” Indeed.
The Bush White House went crazy. The President — acting then as John Boehner is now acting by targeting House conservatives — was furious. Suddenly, retribution was the order of the day.
What happened? All manner of House Republicans were suddenly under attack — from their President on one side and their own constituents on the other. On election day, Rollins recalls, “Republican voters stayed home in droves. It was the lowest Republican off-year turnout since Watergate, and it was all because of Bush’s tax cut.”
Instead of singles and doubles, making a gain of 9 seats or so, the GOP lost a net of nine seats — and Newt Gingrich himself survived by a bare 974 votes.
On the plus side, because of the Reaganite damage control, fifteen seats were saved that almost went down the drain.
After the 1990 election? Just as Boehner is targeting today’s House conservatives by removing them from committee assignments, so the Bush White House did their version of the same thing. Rollins was told the President would never again sign a fundraising letter for GOP House candidates if Rollins stayed in his job. Indeed, the President was quoted as saying to GOP House leaders: “I’ll never do anything for you guys as long as Rollins is up there.”
But he wasn’t alone in facing the Bush White House wrath.
Newt Gingrich was targeted for the presidential fury via Dick Darman because Newt had not only openly opposed the Bush budget deal but led a movement with Reaganite House members who momentarily blocked passage of the deal in the House. Newt, railed an angry Darman, “was worth only thirty votes.” To which an acerbic OMB Reaganite staffer who had opposed the deal replied: “And how many votes are you worth, Dick?” The answer was of course obvious — none. Zip. With one curt exception, Darman never spoke to the guy again.
Next on the list was Bush’s HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, who was vociferously opposing the breaking of the tax pledge from inside the administration but out of public view. “I’ll get Kemp fired,” Darman snapped.
In short: what had happened was that those Reagan had once called the Fraternal Order Republicans — the GOP Establishment — had turned against the conservatives of the day.
And the political response from conservatives didn’t take long in coming. The fire was lit with another op-ed in the New York Times — this one only a month after the disaster of the 1990 mid-term elections.
Longtime conservative activist Richard Viguerie wrote a politically scorching piece that would rival its economic twin by Wanniski a year later. This one was bluntly headlined — prophetically, it would turn out — this way:
Bush Loses the Right Wing
Predicted Viguerie: “George Bush and his minions are heading into a civil war with GOP conservatives that will leave the political fields covered with blood.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?