Elections have consequences and lessons, and Republicans are saying they are learning theirs. The party must reach out to women and ethnic and racial minorities if it is to remain a viable force in American politics.
So what did the House Republican Caucus do? It elected a slate of white men to head its legislative committees.
There's nothing wrong with any of the lawmakers elected to the posts. They worked hard and earned the right to lead. (And notably, House Speaker John Boehner gave a very gracious speech on the floor when the Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, became the first female speaker in 2007.) But without the input of women and minorities in those posts, a certain perspective gets muffled. And without those perspectives, the GOP will find it harder to expand its rank-and-file.
Ironically, women were hurt by a rule House Republicans impose on themselves that term-limits committee chairmen. On paper, this should offer more opportunity for women and minorities, who have come to the political scene later and would otherwise have to wait much longer for a veteran white male congressman to retire so they can compete for a committee chair post. But that rule this year only means that Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida must step down as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The caucus could have made an exception and allowed her to stay. They didn't—but they did make an exception for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who is being allowed to continue in the post.
Two committee chair posts—Ethics and Administration—are still unfilled, and it's possible that a female could be picked for those panels. But Ethics is an albatross of an assignment. Firstly, it doesn't provide any fundraising potential for its members, and secondly, no lawmaker, in either party, really wants to sit in judgment of his or her colleagues. Administration, too, is a necessary but thankless job.
The Republicans did put several women in leadership posts for the GOP Conference, which is laudable. But it's not the same thing as heading a legislative committee, where the perspectives and backgrounds of the committee chairs end up in the details of legislation that affect all Americans. Holding elevated posts in the GOP conference will help women shape the Republican message, but will not have the same impact on actual policy.
House Democrats, for the first time in history, are not made up of a majority of white males. Republicans have fewer women and minorities in Congress to tap for committee leadership posts. But if they don't modernize their leadership, the party itself will not succeed in the modern era.