How the Republican Party Can Fight Back

Tuesday, 11 Nov 2008 03:00 PM

By Phil Brennan

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I have some advice for the Republican members of the incoming 111th Congress who are going to discover what it's like to be inmates in political gulag presided over by a swollen and cocksure House Democratic majority.

And I know what I'm talking about because I was there in the line of fire the last time the GOP was ground under the heels of a dominant Democratic majority. And it ain't a pretty prospect if you are a member of a tiny minority.

As of today, there will be just 175 Republicans and 255 Democrats in the House, and 40 Republicans and 54 Democrats in the Senate with several seats yet to be decided.

In 1961 in the 87th Congress, there were a mere 174 Republicans in a House with 263 Democrats, and just 37 Republicans in a Senate run by 63 Democrats.

In other words, 2009 looks a lot like 1961 when it comes to the balance of power on Capitol Hill. And with a Democratic president downtown, a lesson in history is in order if Republicans are going to count for anything in the next four years.

In 1961, I was a member of the incoming three-person staff of the House Republican Policy Committee and a functionary and spokesman for the House Republican leadership under Minority Leader Charlie Halleck and Policy Committee Chairman John Burns and his colleague John Rhodes.

In the eyes of the Democratic leadership under Sam Rayburn, Republicans were to be barely tolerated. They viewed bipartisanship as meaning only that Republicans were, with reluctance, allowed to use the men's rooms and ride the elevators and not much else. We were the untouchables, poorly staffed and underfinanced.

If we were to have any effect whatsoever on legislation, we had to be fast on our feet. And under the inspired guidance of Charlie Halleck, who was one of the shrewdest parliamentarians around, we scored some impressive victories in holding back a flood-tide of liberal legislative initiatives, despite our small numbers.

What we learned can provide solid guidance to the GOP House membership as they exist in what history shows will be the new Capitol Hill gulag. Democrats don’t change. What they were then, they’ll be now: tyrants.

  • Pick your targets. Oppose only those bills that most clearly violate traditional Republican principles or involve wasteful government spending. Have the Policy Committee issue a statement clearly outlining the GOP objections to the bill, and hold a post-policy committee meeting press conference weekly.

  • Use the Policy Committee staff to study key pending legislation and recommend party positions on key issues.

  • Keep a careful eye on the voting records of Democrats, especially those from marginal districts. Have the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee chairman rifle-shoot press releases and videos to the media in the incumbent's district when he or she cast votes for questionable legislation. Keep up a steady drumfire aimed at the incumbents.

  • In the Senate, use filibusters if available to thwart the worst measures, such as the so-called pro-abortion Freedom of Choice bill or the revival of the so-called Fairness Doctrine that would doom most conservative talk shows such as the Rush Limbaugh and Michael Reagan.

  • Avoid offering Republican alternatives to Democratic Party programs and proposals. In the 87th Congress we had to fight back against what we called the Constructive Republican Alternatives Program — CRAP for short. We asked what would be the Republican alternative to a Democratic bill to kill our mothers — a bill merely to break her legs? Bad legislation needs to be opposed, not sweetened to win GOP support.

  • The congressional wing of the Republican Party will now be the Republican Party. Stay out of the intra party squabbling going on downtown. The Republican power now lies solely on Capitol Hill, not downtown at the Republican National Committee.

  • Revive the joint House-Senate leadership weekly meetings and press conferences presided over by the minority leaders of both Houses. The old so-called “Ev and Charlie” show (for Ev Dirksen and Charlie Halleck) gave the Republican Party an opportunity to hold a widely covered weekly press conferences where the GOP positions were presented to the public.

  • Set up task forces in both the House and Senate assigned to study the major issues and exploit weaknesses in Democratic positions. A good example was the Task Force on American Strategy and Strength which issued the so-called Ford Report in 1960 after its chairman, Rep. Jerry Ford. It fully articulated the Eisenhower defense and foreign policies and was widely covered. One task force should establish the principles that will guide the minority in all its deliberations and actions.

  • Make every effort to ensure cohesion among the Republican membership. Avoid issues where such cohesion clearly cannot be attained.

  • And always keep in mind that you are the sole keepers of the flame and the warriors who will fight to keep the worst excesses of a far-left liberal dominated Democratic Party from leading America down the road to a Marxist future where government is our master and not our servant.

    For the next two years you are America's sole hope for survival of the American dream. Don't ever forget that.

    Semper fi.

    Phil Brennan is a veteran journalist and World War II Marine who writes for Newsmax.com. He is editor and publisher of Wednesday on the Web (http://www.pvbr.com) and was Washington columnist (Cato) for National Review magazine in the 1960s.

    He also served as a staff aide for the House Republican Policy Committee and helped handle the Washington public relations operation for the Alaska Statehood Committee which won statehood for Alaska. He is also a trustee of the Lincoln Heritage Institute and a member of the Association For Intelligence Officers.

    He can be reached at pvb@pvbr.com.

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