To understand the depth of the Republican dilemma that continues to brew in Washington, you only needed to listen to two voices last week.
One belonged to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The primal scream he aimed at his fellow Republicans in the 112th Congress, who on their final day refused to take up a $60 billion relief bill for Hurricane Sandy victims, rumbled across the right-left spectrum of cable TV news.
Most outlets focused on Christie’s criticism of John Boehner. The House speaker was to face re-election by his GOP caucus the next day. But the New Jersey governor dropped large hints that his real target was the dominating right wing of the House GOP caucus, peopled primarily by Southern conservatives.
“New Jersey and New Yorkers are tired of being treated as second-class citizens,” Christie said. “New Jersey deserves better than the duplicity we saw displayed last night.”
“[The bill] just could not overcome the toxic internal politics of the House majority,” the governor said. Christie was asked to identify the culprits. “They know who they are,” he said.
On that same Wednesday, only a few hours earlier, U.S. Rep. Tom Price, the Republican from Roswell, had dialed into a radio talk show in Washington. The topic was the House vote on the “fiscal cliff” agreement, and Price did more than hint at the regional split in his caucus.
“If you look at the votes that were ‘yes’ on the Republican side – there were 85 of them. Seventy of them come from blue states,” Price said. Nearly 90 percent of House Republicans from the South and border states voted against the Senate measure that was produced by negotiations between Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Vice President Joe Biden.
A similar percentage of Northeastern Republicans (far fewer in raw numbers) voted yes.
“I think this is a red-state, blue-state issue,” Price said. “It’s a different conversation that we need to have within our own conference as we move forward.”
When the time came, Price would endorse Boehner’s re-election. But he was clearly dangling himself as rallying point for his caucus’ most conservative members.
Price ended the interview with this thought: “I think we need red-state representation in both our leadership as well as the organizing committees that we have.” Boehner, of course, is from Ohio. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor represents Virginia, which has slipped into swing-state status.
Disregard the fact that Price, despite his years in the Georgia General Assembly, is a Michigan import. The Roswell congressman was declaring the need for House Republican leaders who are not just more conservative, but more Southern as well.
This is an important point, because Republicans have nearly maxed out in the South. Future gains will come from elsewhere, in states with districts less solidly Republican. So Price’s argument could be interpreted as one of consolidation of the House GOP majority, not expansion.
Larry Sabato, the University of Virginia political scientist, was among the first to spot last week’s regional split. Price is far from alone, he said.
“To get a bunch of Republicans from the Northeast or even some of the urban-suburban Midwestern states is to guarantee that the moderates have more weight. They don’t want that,” Sabato said. “They would prefer to have a smaller majority. I think some would prefer to be in the minority.”
Remember that former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who just left to head the Heritage Foundation, famously declared that he’d rather have a group of committed conservatives in the Senate than a majority.
It is a peculiarly Southern trait, as many of our ancestors can attest, to prefer principle – whether right or wrong – over what might be considered natural self-interest. “There’s nothing in the law or Constitution that says a party has to win,” Sabato said.
On Friday, a chastened but re-elected Boehner put the first of three Hurricane Sandy aid bills up for a vote before the newly seated 113th Congress. It passed easily, 354 to 67. All votes in opposition were cast by Republicans. Thirty-one came from the Deep South, including five from Georgia. Price’s vote was among them.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider