Politics & Government

Can Republicans lead? That’s what they - and others - want to know

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio takes questions from reporters during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 8, 2015.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio takes questions from reporters during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 8, 2015. AP

Has there ever been a political party so worried about how it might use its new powers that it has to reassure everyone that it won’t do anything rash or over the top?

Apart from Jeb Bush looking increasingly like a 2016 presidential contender, much of the political talk lately has to do with how the GOP will deal with its newfound control of Capitol Hill.

The often-stated question is, can Republicans “show they can lead?”

And there seems to be some concern _ among Republicans.

“We’re on probation, quite frankly,” Rep. Phil Roe, a Tennessee Republican said recently.

“I don’t want the American people to think that if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that’s going to be a scary (italics added) outcome," said Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the new Senate majority leader.

Republicans are, after all, the party that pushed to shut down the government and whose House majority snubbed an immigration bill that its Senate counterparts had painstakingly negotiated with the Democrats.

But McConnell and Roe are not lonely voices.

The notion that Republicans have to “show they can lead” has been an emphasis of pundits and headline writers, too: “ GOP’s goal: Prove it can lead,” said a page one story last weekend in The Washington Post.

A Google search turned up a variety of instances of that view, with the unstated question being, will they blow it?

Both parties share the blame for how fractious and unproductive Congress has been. Their chief concerns have been more about sending political messages to their troops than getting legislation to the president’s desk.

Republicans stalled judges, blocked measures and passed bills that had no hope of winning support in the other chamber.

Democrats nixed hearings, blocked Republican amendments and passed bills that had no hope of winning support in the other chamber.

Voters, disgusted with both sides, decided to stiff-arm the Democrats in the November elections. But one can understand why cooler heads on both sides might be a little nervous about the public.

“What Republicans do with this opportunity will be central to how the brand evolves,” Republican pollster David Winston wrote in a post-election strategy memo. “It’s important to understand that the election showed the public is willing to listen to Republican ideas, but voters have to be sold on each individual idea first. Republicans do not have carte blanche, but they have an electorate that is willing to listen to Republican ideas to fix the country. That is a unique opportunity for any political party."

In politics, you often reap what you sow. Despite Speaker of the House John Boehner’s defensive insistence Thursday of not being “spineless or a squish,” the GOP has allowed its more extreme element to dictate policy at times. And the party caters to the angry voices on the right when it needs them. There’s little doubt that won’t continue.

This week, the Heritage Foundation, a right wing policy group, publicly pushed the new Republican majority to be “bolder.”

But how different is that from the urgings of Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and her allies on the left that their party stiffen its progressive backbone?

Still, it’s pretty unbecoming for a major political party to be reduced to telling people, ‘Hey, we’re really not so scary.” But when one of that party’s significant achievements lately has been a series of endless votes to repeal the health care law _ and after the election, Boehner promised they would press on undeterred _ perhaps Republicans are onto something.

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