Karl Marx’s maxim — history repeats itself, the second time, as farce — could well serve as a warning to a number of office holders from the past who are attempting political comebacks.
Former Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts hinted last week at a comeback race in 2014, but in neighboring New Hampshire.
And former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford — whose career was destroyed by an extramarital affair in 2009 — roared back to take the Republican nomination for Congress with 57 percent of the vote.
The latest prospective “comeback kid” is Bob Barr, former Georgia Republican representative from 1994-2002 and best-known as one of the House impeachment managers during President Bill Clinton’s Senate trial.
Since redistricting forced him into the same turf with another Republican lawmaker in 2002 and he lost the primary, conservative firebrand Barr has had an interesting career path as a counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union and as the Libertarian Party nominee for president in 2008.
Barr, who rejoined the Republican Party and campaigned for Mitt Romney over Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson last year, announced last week he would seek the Republican nomination in Georgia’s 11th Congressional District.
With Rep. Phil Gingrey relinquishing his House seat to run for the Senate, Cobb County resident Barr hails from the most populous part of the 11th District. In the all-important GOP primary, Barr is expected to face state Sen. Barry Loudermilk and state Rep. Edward Lindsey.
“In the last few years, I’ve contributed to Republican candidates, and I’ve been very active in the party here," Barr told me last week as he headed to campaign at a gun show in Marietta. “People come up to me and tell me they support me because I never left my principles.”
But will his work for the ACLU — long a target of conservatives — come back to haunt him?
“No, and in fact, people thank me for the work I did with them, which was on the Patriot Act,” Barr said. “It led to cutting back government surveillance and sunset positions [on the Patriot Act].
“I’ve also worked on issues related to the Patriot Act with the Eagle Forum, the National Rifle Association, and Americans for Tax Reform. Now that doesn’t mean we necessarily agree on every issue — only that we could work together on certain issues,” Barr said.
Pundits and pols agree that Barr’s apostasy of carrying the Libertarian Party presidential banner five years ago — and very possibly costing John McCain the electoral votes of North Carolina — will not be held against him. And there are historical examples to back them up.
Former Republican Rep. Ron Paul was the Libertarian nominee for president in 1988, but this did not stop him from winning the Republican primary for Congress in a Texas district in 1996 and serving 16 more years as U.S. representative.
And in 1936, Rep. William Lemke of North Dakota bolted the GOP to become the Union Party nominee for president, with the solid backing of “radio priest” Father Charles Coughlin. After a brief hiatus from office, Lemke came back to the House in 1942 as a Republican.
In the interview, Barr discussed his old nemesis Bill Clinton. The Georgian was the first member of Congress to call for impeachment of the 42nd president and served as an impeachment manager, similar to a prosecutor, in the 1998 proceedings in the Senate.
Barr later wrote a book on what he considered the squandered impeachment trial entitled “The Meaning of Is,” from Clinton’s celebrated response in depositions questioning the term ‘is’.
“He was a scoundrel who violated the law,” Barr said of Clinton without hesitation. “But he was also an astute politician who knew how to get things done. He worked with [House Speaker] Newt [Gingrich], get mad at him, and then reach an agreement and go out and take credit for it.”
Comparing the Clinton performance to that of President Barack Obama today, Barr said: “They couldn’t be more different.”
As he does in his early campaign speeches, Barr frequently invoked Gingrich's name in the interview and the Republican Congress he led after the 1994 election. “The budget was balanced and welfare reform was passed,” Barr said.
Barr was a member of that class of 1994, as was Sanford of South Carolina. They hope to join two other former Republican House members from the same fabled “Class of ’94” — Matt Salmon of Arizona and Steve Stockman of Texas — who both recently made political comebacks, regaining House seats more than a decade after departing Congress.
John Gizzi is the former political editor for Human Events, working for the conservative weekly from 1979 to 2013. Gizzi is a recipient of the William A. Rusher Award for Journalistic Excellence, was named Journalist of the Year by the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2002, and has appeared on hundreds of radio and TV talk shows.
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