By: Emily Kopp
After failing to unseat President Obama and losing ground in both congressional chambers, Republicans face a serious debate about the direction of the party, one that pits the pragmatic against the principled. Should the GOP soften its stance on social issues and immigration reform to expand its constituency, or remain staunch to galvanize its base? The post-election power plays of Georgia’s high-profile politicians well reveal this internal conflict.
In the contest for House Conference Chair, Roswell Republican Tom Price earned endorsements from Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and outgoing Chair Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. Despite their support, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., edged out Price for the fourth ranking House GOP spot.
Many pundits highlighted this otherwise esoteric race as an important foreshadowing of a move by Republicans towards moderatism and inclusivity. First, McMorris Rodgers diversifies the House Republican leadership as its only woman. Women proved electorally problematic for Republicans, including defeated Senator Todd Akin, R-Mo., and defeated Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, R-Ind. McMorris-Rodgers’ nomination is especially significant now that Republican committee chairmanships have been announced without the inclusion of women. She might also prove more amenable to compromise with Democrats than Price, who once served as Chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a conference created in 1973 to rally Republicans around conservatism.
His ambitions in the House temporarily snuffed and with strong ties to conservative activists in Georgia, Price may launch a Senate run. According to Roll Call, Price retains $1.5 million on tap for campaigning. Price would likely seek to uproot Sen. Chambliss, who has irked conservative Georgians for sometimes failing to fall into party line. Chambliss spearheaded the Gang of Six, a bipartisan group that, during the 2011 debt ceiling imbroglio, devised a plan with spending cuts and tax hikes. The conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation criticized the proposal. In an interview with The Washington Post, Chambliss pointed out that revenues currently account for 15 percent of GDP, “still in the range of the lowest it’s ever been.” More visibly, Chambliss garnered national attention this week for rebuking Grover Norquist’s pledge against tax increases. The looming threat of the fiscal cliff has tested the feasibility of that yellowing promise. According to one of his interns, Chambliss’s office has fielded hundreds of angry calls in recent days.
Some optimistic Democratic strategists predict that, should a conservative primary challenger knock Chambliss out of the race, Democrats could regain his district. Indeed, some have rosily predicted Georgia will flip to blue by the 2016 presidential election, citing rapidly shifting demographics. According to the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics, Georgia has experienced the country’s largest percentage increase in its Hispanic population in the last decade, a 95 percent surge. Texas, the state with the second largest increase, only saw a 65 percent uptick.
Meanwhile, even Sen. Johnny Isakson has mollified his rhetoric on revenues, saying on the floor, “Congress does spend too much, but in the last 12 months our spending was $1.18 trillion and our deficit was $1.2 trillion,” an implicit recognition of the need for greater revenue.
Yet challenges remain in reconciling the movement towards moderatism with the state party’s consistently conservative base, as evidenced by recent events in the General Assembly. Georgia Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, canceled his bid for reelection after news surfaced he had organized a hearing about Agenda 21, a conspiracy theory that accuses the UN of pushing for socialism in the United States through covert means. More tellingly, Party Chairman Sue Everhart playfully invited Republican firebrand Allen West to join Georgia Republicans, and hinted that she would assist him with his campaign should he decide to do so.
Even as Chambliss and Isakson ease their stances on tax breaks for the wealthy, the state legislature that both restricted abortions (HB 954) and implemented draconian punishments for undocumented immigrants (HB 87) last year seems to be continuing ahead with full force.
Republican strategist Ford O’Connell told The Hill that “if the GOP wants to succeed on the electoral map in the future, it cannot continue to be the party of old white men.” He added, “[w]hen the GOP is looking for its next wave of leaders, it should look at two regions — the Southeast and Southwest, where demographics are changing the most and party control is changing the most.”
While Georgia’s Beltway politicians pursue a more moderate stance in national politics, conservatives maintain a strong grip on the state level, making the Peach State something of a microcosm of the competing factions dividing the entire Republican Party. The Party, including Georgians, will have to wrestle with how it defines itself, iron out the kinks, and present a unified front before the 2014 midterms.