Dennis Hastert has said, not surprisingly, that he is not interested in being Minority Leader in the next Congress. That makes John Boehner the heir apparent. But earlier today, Mike Pence of Indiana put his hat into the ring. In a message to fellow Republicans, he wrote, in part:
I am running for Republican leader, because I believe that we did not just lose our Majority-we lost our way. We are in the wilderness because we walked away from the limited government principles that minted the Republican Congress.
After 1994, we were a Majority committed to a balanced federal budget, entitlement reform and the principles of a limited federal government. We delivered on balanced federal budgets, welfare reform and responded to a national emergency with defense spending, homeland security and tax cuts that put our economy back on its feet.
However, in recent years, to the chagrin of millions of Republicans, our Majority also voted to expand the federal government’s role in education by nearly 100% and created the largest new entitlement in 40 years. We also pursued domestic spending policies that created record deficits, national debt and earmark spending that has embarrassed us and caused many Americans to question our commitment to fiscal responsibility.
This was not in the Contract with America.
Our opponents will say that the American people rejected our Republican vision. I say the American people did not quit on the Contract with America, we did. In so doing, we severed the bonds of trust between our party and millions of our most ardent supporters.
Credibility will be essential for our primary task these next two years-to expose, dismantle and defeat the Democrat agenda. Without the votes necessary to stop the advance of their liberal priorities, our mission will be one of persuasion and tactics. Each of us must commit ourselves to using our voices and areas of expertise to dismantle Democrat arguments and expose their liberal, big government agenda at every turn.
Boehner, too, wrote a memo to his Republican colleagues that called for a return to the spirit of 1994. But he put a more positive construction on the last Congress, when he was Majority Leader:
We did make progress toward righting the ship over the last two years. Our earmark reforms showed Republicans were reengaged in the fight to change the status quo in Washington. They represented meaningful institutional reform that would have fit comfortably within the Contract with America. We also enacted the most significant entitlement reforms since 1997, enacted an emergency spending bill for Iraq and hurricane relief which rejected $14 billion in unnecessary spending from the Senate, and held the line on discretionary spending.
But ultimately, the die had been cast even before these victories. Many of our voters wondered whether instead of changing Washington, Washington had changed us. And the Foley scandal, along with other brazen betrayals of the public trust by other Members, cemented in voters’ minds the picture of a party that had lost its way. The renewal of our reform commitment was too late, and too limited, to reverse our party’s fate.
It will be interesting to see whether Congressional Republicans can deliver on these pledges of renewal. There have been a lot of frustrated conservatives in recent years; now maybe they will be unleashed.