Boehner, GOP Need to Bridge the Tea Party-Establishment Gap

Many of those angry voters who showed up for the GOP want changes that are structurally difficult to achieve.

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There are a number of votes still to be counted Wednesday morning. Several congressional seats, a U.S. Senate seat or two, and a few down ballot races hang in the balance. “Mighty Casey” did not, as the poem goes, “struck out”--but the GOP experienced some disappointing failures that will inevitably lead to some finger-pointing over the next few days.

It’s not that the magnitude of its win wasn’t substantial--it was. The GOP won control of a number of significant state legislative chambers including, apparently--and for the first time since reconstruction--the Alabama and North Carolina legislatures. But it looks like it didn’t win back the New York Senate.

It won a number of significant governorships, including Michigan’s, Wisconsin’s, Ohio’s, Pennsylvania’s, and, probably, Florida’s--but failed to come close in California while coming up short in Massachusetts.

There are some exciting new senators coming into the nation’s upper chamber, including Florida’s Marco Rubio, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, and Rand Paul of Kentucky. They will not be joined by Nevada’s Sharron Angle or West Virginia’s John Raese. John Boehner, meanwhile, becomes Speaker of the U.S House of Representatives with, apparently, a majority larger than either Newt Gingrich or Denny Hastert ever enjoyed.

The agents of change, it seemed, were all on the side of the GOP on Tuesday. Yet there were certain races, like the Cuomo-Paladino contest in New York that never quite gelled, which had a profound impact on races down the ballot which the GOP might have won if things were going better at the top of the ticket.

Republican leaders must help the newly re-energized Republicans find ways to bridge the still obvious gap between the party establishment and the “Tea Parties,” which take and deserve a lot of credit for what happened on Tuesday. Boehner, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are probably the ones to do it.

The problem is that many of those angry voters who showed up for the GOP want changes that are structurally difficult to achieve--because the Democrats still control the Senate by a healthy margin and a newly-invigorated Harry Reid will still “fill the amendment tree” and keep the Senate as partisan as it has been for the last four years, leaving the Republicans to continue to rely on the filibuster and the hold as the only avenues available to them to stop bad legislation because Reid’s conduct as leader is preventing them from offering the amendments they might like. You know how this will be reported.

[See where Reid gets his campaign money.]

The conflict now comes between those whose are, if you will forgive the martial metaphor, focused on fighting the battles and those who are concentrating on winning the war.

A lot of this, too, depends on how President Barack Obama reacts to the election results. The smart thing for him to do would to be to publicly embrace Boehner and the new GOP leadership--“America, I have heard you”--while continuing to privately and procedurally move forward with his liberal agenda. It would confuse the Republicans, especially those Tea Partyers who want to see change now. Not tomorrow, not in two years, but now.

Some of Tuesday’s GOP gains are likely permanent--or as permanent as things like this can ever be--like winning back the traditionally Republican seat the Democrat Gene Taylor has held since he won it in a special election when George H.W. Bush was president. Others, however, may represent a sort of GOP high watermark--like holding two of West Virginia’s three congressional seats or some of the seats they won in Georgia, Texas, and Minnesota. It would be a mistake on everyone’s part to assume that the 2012 election cycle, which began Wednesday morning, will be fought along the same lines as the one just concluded. Everyone has to be prepared to adapt, both strategically and tactically.

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