Co-opting the Anti-Spenders

Voters who recognize the need to make major cuts to federal spending and think returning Republicans to power will accomplish this feat could be in for a big disappointment. Recent comments to the Washington Post made by former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-MS) make it clear that anti-spending candidates elected in November will be fighting against their own party – not just the Democrats.

From the article:

Former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), now a D.C. lobbyist, warned that a robust bloc of rabble-rousers spells further Senate dysfunction. “We don’t need a lot of Jim DeMint disciples,” Lott said in an interview. “As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them.”

Lott actually provided one of the more memorable moments in my career as a Senate staffer. The scene took place in the office of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) at a regular meeting of “conservative” Republican senators to discuss politics and policy. The setting was several months before the 2006 fall elections in which voters sent the Republican majority packing.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who I was working for at the time, was pleading with his colleagues to make a last ditch effort to cut spending. Coburn argued, correctly, that voters were fed up with Republican profligacy. In the midst of the discussion, Trent Lott entered. Strolling about the office while chomping on snacks, Lott dismissed Coburn’s suggestion in his good-ole-boy southern style.

Instead, Lott said the Republicans needed to tell voters that putting the Democrats in charge of post-911 America would leave the country vulnerable to terrorist attacks. In other words, Lott’s solution was to scare voters into keeping the Republicans in charge.

Lott might be gone, but the current GOP leadership seems to share the same aversion to actually reforming government. They will attempt to “co-opt” candidates who come to Washington on an anti-spending platform. (See my post on Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)).

In a recent Washington Times piece, John Ellis makes a compelling case for why 2010 is not going to be a replay of 1994:

Nobody can doubt that House Minority Leader John A. Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell are good and loyal Republicans, but they lack everything that made Mr. Gingrich the author of success in 1994. Both are passive and timid and lack the drive and energy a real leader needs. Both are primarily managers rather than public voices of their caucuses. Neither can dominate a TV screen as Mr. Gingrich could, and neither is able to capture the public’s attention by focusing issues sharply and succinctly. Mr. Boehner is a wooden personality devoid of Mr. Gingrich’s charisma, and the slogan: “Boehner for Speaker,” which is beginning to appear, is hardly inspiring. Mr. McConnell is amiable but retiring, never arresting or incisive.

Indeed, the current Republican leadership bemoans the Obama administration’s reckless big spending and deficits. But other than complain and insist that the president should “pay for” additional spending, the GOP leadership has given no evidence that it recognizes – or even believes – that we actually need a smaller government.

Instead, the GOP has trotted out timid half-measures that they think will play well to the country’s anti-spending mood, but that would actually accomplish very little.