For much of his career in the House, Majority Leader Tom DeLay was a loyal soldier to the conservative cause. He kept the GOP troops in line, delivered many votes for President Bush, and did a superb job fundraising for his colleagues in the House. Although he had become too comfortable with the trappings of power in recent years, he took the honorable path over the weekend by deciding against re-seeking his leadership post. Now the question is who will replace him?
Given current circumstances, there is only one responsible choice: Mike Pence. So far, Representative Pence has suggested that he will not actively seek the office of Majority Leader. If so, his colleagues must draft him.
The first reason that Pence should be Majority Leader is that he has shown strong organizational skills. His leadership of the House Republican Study Committee led to a much-needed reduction in the rate of spending growth. Yes, the reductions were small. But given the Beltway's addiction to budget fat, it takes ample guts and skill to act as dietician.
Next, Pence is not caught up in the Jack Abramoff scandal, unlike another potential successor to DeLay, Roy Blunt. Not only did Blunt take donations from Abramoff, a New York Times story reported that he was on an "eat free" list at one of Abramoff's restaurants. Other documents show that some of his staff took advantage of Abramoff's skyboxes. In fairness, there is no evidence that Blunt or his staff did anything illegal. Yet it is the appearance of impropriety that will carry the day in the media. By picking Pence, the House GOP sends a message that it takes the scandal seriously and wants to start afresh.
Perhaps most importantly, Pence has shown, unlike many leading Republicans, that he has not succumbed to the temptations of power. DeLay eventually fell victim to the desire to keep constituents happy by spending gobs of money. This was most evident in his boneheaded remarks in which he declared "ongoing victory" in the effort to cut spending because there was "simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget." Blunt and John Boehner (another leading contender) show no signs of being any better. Looking at Blunt's House website, one finds a review of the Medicare drug benefit's progress and how Blunt delivered $21.7 million in research for Southwest Missouri research projects. Boehner's website features prominent links to No Child Left Behind, Medicare.gov, and Hurricane Katrina and Rita aid. Pence's website highlights deficit reduction.
Appointing a serious budget cutter like Pence will help the GOP with its increasingly dispirited base. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed late last year, Dick Armey stated:
In all my years in politics, I've never sensed such anger and frustration from our volunteers -- those who do the hard work of door-to-door mobilization that Republican candidates depend on to get elected. Across the nation, wherever I go to speak with them, their refrain is the same: "I can't tell a dime's worth of difference between Republicans and Democrats." Our base rightly expects Republicans to govern by the principles -- lower taxes, less government and more freedom -- that got them elected. Today, with Republicans controlling both the legislative and executive branches of the federal government, there is a widening credibility gap between their political rhetoric and their public policies.
Armey then asks, "What will happen to Republicans if these freedom-loving, grassroots activists don't show up for work next fall?" An ominous question, given that a recent poll shows that on a generic ballot, the public favors Democrats to Republicans by 49-36 percent.
The House GOP can turn it around. It has done so before. In the wake of the volatile Newt Gingrich (and the disastrous attempt by Bob Livingston to succeed him), the House Republicans chose Dennis Hastert as their new Speaker. A low-key man who shunned the spotlight, Hastert was exactly what the GOP needed to fix its image. Now they need someone who has not been corrupted by the Beltway. And that is Mike Pence.