It’s been a long time since conservatives have had much to cheer about regarding the Republican leadership in the US House of Representatives.
Back in 1994, the Right was on the rise. Newt Gingrich had led not just a Republican takeover of the house but one with a conservative identity.
The “compromise first, confront never” crowd had been pushed aside and replaced by conservatives like Speaker Gingrich, Majority Leader Dick Armey and Majority Whip Tom DeLay.
The change in congressional control was not just a shift in party but one of philosophy.
But a few years later things began to unravel, with conservative congressional leaders plotting against themselves over committee assignments and the best way to deal with the Clinton White House.
The beginning of the end was the history-defying 1998 mid-terms when the GOP majority was chipped away by five seats instead of expanded, an embarrassing result that led to Gingrich’s resignation.
With the election of George W. Bush as president, the Republican majority in Congress got coopted by the White House.
The caucus devolved from being a conservative vanguard offering counterproposals to the Clinton agenda, some of which the Democratic administration was compelled to embrace, to enablers of a Republican administrative program that was not always of a conservative character.
Advancing conservative principles became secondary to providing cover for the second Bush Administration.
Tethered to the president and without an identity of its own, it was the GOP Majority in the House that ultimately paid the price in 2006 when Bush’s popularity spiraled. The American people could not force the president out the Oval Office early but it could (ad did) take out their frustrations on his Capitol Hill amen corner.
After a four year exile, the GOP regained control of the house, but in a manner very different from the 1994 takeover.
John Boehner and company were not so much the leaders of a movement but mere beneficiaries of the public’s revulsion of ObamaCare and reckless spending binge by the Democrats. They were opportunists, not revolutionaries.
Perhaps this is the reason why the Republican speaker has so much trouble appreciating the party’s conservative base; his possession of the gavel was not an end but a byproduct of the grassroots opposition to the Obama agenda.
Nobody went marching to the polls in 2010 with a determination to make Boehner speaker (well maybe the Chamber of Commerce crowd and some Ohio voters) but to throw then-speaker Nancy Pelosi out of her position of power.
After almost four years of Republican control of the House that has not produced much more than mild irritation to the Obama Administration, voters in a Virginia congressional district took action.
The Beltway biosphere was rocked when Majority Leader Eric Cantor was denied renomination, setting off a chain of political dominos.
With Kevin McCarthy of California a lock to succeed Cantor as Majority Leader, McCarthy’s soon-to-be-vacated Majority Whip post offers conservatives an opportunity to inject some new blood into the House leadership.
Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana has already launched a campaign for McCarthy’s job and conservatives should rally behind the Jefferson Parish lawmaker.
Scalise has been in Congress since 2008, filling the congressional seat that has been previously occupied by Speaker-elect Bob Livingston, US Senator David Vitter and Governor Bobby Jindal.
Though Scalise has been a consistent conservative in his relative brief tenure on the Hill, it’s his decade plus service in the Louisiana legislature that should reassure conservatives.
Scalise was one of the leading Republican figures in Louisiana politics prior to his election to Congress., not merely going along with conservative endeavors but personally immersing himself in them.
His credentials as a social conservative are impeccable.
Scalise took the lead role in advancing legislation that strengthened the Second Amendment, even getting personal back up from Charlton Heston. Scalise also successfully pushed through a state constitutional amendment on traditional marriage.
Scalise’s activism wasn’t just contained to halls of the legislature, as he was an early and energetic advocate for Jindal’s 2003 gubernatorial candidacy.
Beyond toeing the conservative line on taxes and pro-business measures, Scalise proved to be an effective and innovative legislator, managing to pass bills during a period when the Democrats controlled the legislature and a Democrat was governor.
One of Scalise’s most noteworthy legacies was getting through the film-tax credit program that led to Louisiana becoming a major player in movie production, creating jobs and leading to the construction of Hollywood-quality studios in the state.
Scalise’s election as Majority Whip would mark the return of red state conservative activists to a top leadership position in the House.
While the ascension of another blue state Republican (McCarthy) won’t be cheered by many on the Right, conservatives should welcome the promotion of a solid conservative from a red state to the third highest post in Congress.
Scalise’s election as Majority Whip would be a major step forward towards reconstructing the conservative House leadership that has been MIA since the 1990s.