Ashton makes a good point about the geographic diversity of the GOP House leadership in comparison to its Democratic predecessor. Another interesting addition may be Kristi Noem, the incoming freshman who will serve as the At-Large Representative for South Dakota and who looks to be in line to fill a new position being created to give some leadership representation to the burgeoning ranks of Tea Party-affiliated conservatives. Noem is attractive, articulate, and has a compelling biography. She looks to be a definite rising star in the party.
I think the mix of the two parties may be reflective of what caused the Democrats to go astray in the past few years. Looking at the new Republican leadership, only Texan Jeb Hensarling comes from a state where Republicans are reliably strong in both federal and state elections. Democrats, on the other hand, populated their leadership ranks with figures from the deepest of the deep blue states. They governed that way too. And in so doing, they forgot all the lessons that gave them control of the Congress.
In the 2006 and 2008 election cycles, Rahm Emanuel in the House and Chuck Schumer in the Senate gave considerable flexibility to their recruited candidates, allowing them to run with conservative positions on a host of issues that allowed them to escape being tarred as liberals in the Midwest, the South, and the Mountain West. While they succeeded in getting a large percentage of those candidates elected, the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda then lurched so heavily to the left that the new members had to run for reelection in the shadow of a record that undermined all their pretensions of moderation.
The facile interpretation of this trend is that a party always has to govern from the center to keep its majority. That’s also the rationale for liberals like E.J. Dionne, who hope that the new conservative majority’s stand on principle will alienate them from the electorate. In his most recent column, Dionne writes:
Give Republicans credit for this: They don’t chase the center, they try to move it. Democrats can play a loser’s game of scrambling after a center being pushed ever rightward. Or they can stand their ground and show how far their opponents are from moderate, problem-solving governance. Why should Democrats take Republican advice that Republicans themselves would never be foolish enough to follow?
This is what happens when a static mind attempts to comprehend a dynamic landscape. The problem with Dionne’s analysis is that he assumes the left and the right are equidistant from the center. This is false. When Gallup polled the question in June, 42 percent of Americans identified as conservative, 35 percent said they were moderate, and 20 percent said they were liberal. That means the self-identified center-right represents an astonishing 77 percent of the country. By contrast, the center-left at its theoretical apex is only a slight majority of Americans. When you then factor in that 56 percent of independents broke for Republicans this year — and that that represented a 36 point swing from 2006 — you see how steep the hill is for Democrats.
Dionne and his counterparts in Congress need to learn the lesson: in a center-right country, it’s more important for Democrats to moderate than Republicans. If you doubt that, ask Bill Clinton — he might remind you that he’s the only Democratic president to be elected twice since FDR.