Molly Hooper of The Hill has a long piece today on Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann's challenge of Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling to succeed Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana for House Republican Conference Chairman.
As Hooper notes, Bachmann is portraying the contest as the Establishment GOP versus the Tea Party. Such a narrative probably makes sense to liberal journalists, but it misrepresents a key aspect of the struggle in recent years between faithful House GOP conservatives like Hensarling and those such as Jerry Lewis and Hal Rogers who went whole-hog for the old politics of earmarks and pork barrel.
Tea Party advocates are absolutely right to take down the Lewis and Rogers brand of Me-Too Republicanism, but what about those like Hensarling among the House GOP caucus who have been fighting the congressional GOP's drift leftward for many years?
Since his election to the House in 2002, Hensarling has been among the most consistent conservative voices in the Republican caucus. Besides being THE House GOP critic of TARP, he's fought the spending issues with such force that National Review has dubbed him “Rep. Budget Reform.” He isn't called a “conservative workhorse” for nothing.
House Republicans like Lewis and Rogers and Ted Stevens and Trent Lott in the Senate are why the GOP lost its congressional majority, but what about the Tom Coburns, Jim DeMints and Jeb Hensarlings who have been fighting the good fight during the good years and the bad?
These conservative GOP stalwarts should be rewarded, not challenged, by Tea Party champions and voters alike. Seen in that light, Bachmann's challenge of Hensarling is the wrong battle at the wrong place at the wrong time.
It would make far more sense for Bachmann to join forces as vice chairman of the conference with Hensarling. As RedState's Erick Erickson put it:
“Hensarling is a very substantive policy guy. Michelle Bachmann gave up campaigning for herself to go all over the country for Republicans this year. She deserves a seat at the table.”
Otherwise, Bachmann risks creating a friendly fire incident that nobody wants.
Bachmann's effort could pose the first significant test of House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner's leadership skills. Bachmann portrays her candidacy as being important so that the House GOP can “demonstrate to the people who sent us here that their concerns will be tirelessly advanced at the table of leadership,”
But that demonstration can be made in a wide variety of ways, so Boehner could diffuse the contest by opening doors for Bachmann for leadership roles in other ways. Unfortunately, it appears Boehner is taking a hands-off attitude, judging by comments on Fox News Sunday by his expected House Majority Leader, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia.
As Hooper reported, when asked by Fox's Chris Wallace about the race if opposing Bachmann wasn't evidence of an “old-boys network,” Cantor responded:
“You've got two conservatives in this race,” Cantor said. “You have an incoming class that is probably more diverse and more reflective of a growing conservative majority in this country than I've seen since I've been here in Washington.
“And these individuals will be allowed to vote for which conservative that they choose,” he said. “I mean, again, these are two conservatives. Neither individual could ever be accused of being anything but a conservative.”
Cantor's statement is accurate as far as it goes, but it's not an approach likely to bring the caucus together.