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A More Conservative House in 2016?

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Wednesday, 04 May 2016 09:10 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Though Donald Trump''s victory in Indiana captured headlines, conservative activists won key GOP primaries for two open U.S. House districts. The implications could be just as far-reaching.

In the Third District, which Rep. Marlin Stutzman relinquished to run unsuccessfully for the Senate, State Sen. Jim Banks overcame three strong opponents to secure nomination for the House. Honored at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) as one of its “Top Ten Conservatives Under 40,” Banks, 36, was a leader in his state’s successful enactment of right-to-work legislation and was backed by national conservative organizations such as Club for Growth.

Less than two years after moving from Tennessee into Indiana’s 9th District, Trey Hollingsworth deployed more than $2 million of family money to win nomination for Young’s seat. Dubbed the “Donald Trump of Indiana,” Wharton School of Business graduate Hollingsworth, 32, campaigned for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and rolling back government regulations.

Coupled with the likely nominations and elections of fellow conservatives in the districts of the twenty-four other retiring GOP House Members, experts say the triumphs of Banks and Hollingsworth raise the odds that the next House will be even more conservative than the current one.

They also say this outcome will have critical ramifications.

“The Republican ranks in the House are becoming more conservative and have been for the last couple of election years,” Chip Saltsman, veteran Tennessee GOP consultant and manager of Mike Huckabee’s two presidential bids, told me, “As older Members retire, the more conservative candidate usually wins the Republican nomination. With so many [Republican] districts drawn to protect incumbents, this trend will continue.”

A more conservative Republican House, Saltsman believes, “means its success will depend on the leadership’s ability to sell a program to the members. It used to be that success mean working across the aisle in the House. For House Republicans, it now means leadership proving it can first work with its own members.”

The failure of House conservatives to work with their leaders, he added, “means more gridlock.”

Scott McClellan, former press secretary to President George W. Bush, agreed.

“The general trend in both parties has been toward more ideological candidates on the right and left,” McClellan told me, “Districts are drawn in such a way to be more favorable to the party in control of the process, and that has led to a growth of more ideological members of Congress.”

Regarding the likely makeup of House Republicans in the next Congress, he said, “While the early outlook suggests the GOP might lose more competitive house races than originally projected with Trump at the head of the ticket, I suspect the [conservative] Freedom Caucus could well increase its numbers a bit.”

As to whether a President Trump could work with such a House, McClellan replied: “Might be better to ask that question in 2020! With that said, this is a difficult-to-predict year with politics turned on its head. If Trump does pull off the victory against the odds, it would probably being even harder to predict his relationship and governing style with regards to Congress.”

Former GOP Rep. Robert Walker, a close adviser to presidential hopeful John Kasich, warned that while their ranks may be larger in the next House, “hard core conservatives are going to have to come to the realization at some point that they have to be governing conservatives. The issues we face are so large that conservative protest movements are not enough.

“When you are in the congressional minority, you can reject compromise as the way forward. But in the majority you have to accept legislative products that do not give you everything you want but take you down the right road.”

Don Critchlow, author of a new book on the Republican Party entitled “Forward Right,” also had a warning for conservatives.

“Two hard-core conservatives won nominations for open U.S. House seats in Indiana,” he told me. “The question that confronts House leadership is not whether their members will be more conservative, but whether the party can keep the House. Internal Democratic polls currently have Democrats winning 24 of the 26 House seats up for grabs. Conservatives should not be too overly excited.

“Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, bring the highest negatives of any presidential candidate into the 2016 presidential campaign. If Clinton can prevent Trump from driving up her negatives and cement his, Republicans can face a down-ballot disaster. Clinton is vulnerable, but this is going to be one of the nastiest presidential elections in modern American politics, just when voters thought it could get any worse after Obama’s demonization of Romney in 2012.”

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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Though Donald Trump''s victory in Indiana captured headlines, conservative activists won key GOP primaries for two open U.S. House districts. The implications could be just as far-reaching.
trump, house, election
Wednesday, 04 May 2016 09:10 AM
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