Republicans' post-Election 2010 challenge: managing expectations

Republican strategists urge party supporters to show 'maturity, sobriety, and patience,' and not to push for too much, too fast from an anticipated GOP majority in the House.

Harry Hamburg/AP/file
Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, pictured here in a March 19 file photo, says cutting funding for health-care reform will be easier said than done – even if the GOP wins a majority of seats in the House Nov. 2

On the eve of a potential midterm election landslide, the Republicans are working hard to manage expectations – not just over how many congressional seats they will win on Nov. 2, but over what they can accomplish once their expanded ranks take office in January.

On point No. 1, the train has left the station: The Republicans have to win a majority of House races next Tuesday, or they will be seen to have failed.

But point No. 2, expectations once in office, is trickier. President Obama won election two years ago on a wave of sky-high expectations for progressive transformation, and many of his supporters feel let down.

Now that the Republicans look set to regain a modicum of power, it’s their supporters’ turn to demonstrate prudence, warns Peter Wehner, a political strategist in the second Bush White House.

“In the aftermath of the midterm elections, the conservative movement should keep pressure on members of Congress to propose a governing blueprint that is equal to this moment – one that limits government and champions a growth agenda,” Mr. Wehner writes on his Commentary magazine blog. “At the same time, conservatives need to show some measure of maturity, sobriety, and patience. They cannot demand that everything be done all at once.”

Obama still president

Mr. Obama will still be president for the next two years. That alone will put the brakes on anything as dramatic as repealing health-care reform, which he would veto. (And a veto override, which requires a two-thirds majority of both houses, is beyond thinkable.)

Even defunding the reform will be difficult, notes Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, the next chairman of the House Budget Committee in a GOP majority.

“I get this question every day, ‘If you take back Congress, you have the power of the purse, just defund the thing,’ ” Congressman Ryan told the American Spectator in an interview. “Well, yeah, technically speaking, we can put riders in appropriations bills that say, ‘No such funds can go to HHS to do x, y, or z in implementing ObamaCare.’... [Mr. Obama] doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who would sign those things.”

“So I see a lot of stalemate,” Ryan says.

Writer Mickey Kaus, a self-described neoliberal who blogs at, wonders if Republican House Speaker-in-Waiting John Boehner really even wants to win big in November.

“Tactically, with a big House majority, Boehner would feel pressure to pull the sort of stunt – a government shutdown to repeal Obama’s health plan? – that got Newt Gingrich into trouble,” writes Mr. Kaus, referring to the former House speaker.

It wasn’t too long ago that Republicans worried about winning the majority by the narrowest of margins, which would create the problem of “having authority but no power,” former Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told the Monitor last month. He suggested that the GOP needs to win control of the House by a sufficiently big margin – roughly, a 10-seat cushion – to have a solid, functioning majority.

Predicted GOP gains

In the past six weeks, estimates of GOP net gains have only gone up, so Mr. Fleischer’s fears of a too-slim majority may not come to pass. The Republicans need 39 seats to take the majority. On Tuesday, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report updated its prediction to a net GOP gain of 48 to 60 seats.

Still, Fleischer also worries about a newly empowered GOP trying to go too far too fast in 2011. If so, he warns, “it could strengthen Barack Obama’s hand going into his reelection.”

Republican pollster Whit Ayres is confident that rank-and-file Republicans will understand that taking over the House is just the beginning of the process of redirecting the country away from “the disastrous road we’re on.”

“You’ve got to stop going in the wrong direction before you can turn around and go in the right direction,” Mr. Ayres says. Republican voters “understand that sometimes it takes two or three steps to turn it around, and certainly two elections to turn it around.”

And, Ayres says, taking a dig at Obama, “there’s nobody running as the next messiah, as we had in 2008.”

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