As the GOP Gains Control of the House, What Does the Party Have to Do?

The Republican Party has gained control of the House.

November 3, 2010, 12:45 PM

Nov. 3, 2010— -- With the ballots now counted and the Republican Party gaining control of the House, unifying the diverse Republican Party and minimizing chaos is likely to dominate the party's agenda.

Ohio Rep. John Boehner, who is expected to become the next Speaker of the House, has two years to make tangible difference before the 2012 presidential election.

"[Boehner's] first challenge is to control the rebels," said Julian Zelizer, political analyst and professor of politics at Princeton University. "Some of the ideological division we see will be because of the Tea Party types, but also just because of freshmen determined to show they're not part of the status quo."

The House was won by the GOP thanks to voters' dislike of the Obama administration combined with the independent voters.

"The Republicans don't want to look like a whole cohort of Christine O'Donnell's came to town," said Zelizer referring to the losing Tea Party candidate who admitted during the campaign she once dabbled in witchcraft. "Maverick outsiders who are good at attack politics but who are not necessarily politicians who can't handle the responsibilities of the office."

"Boehner has to make sure that's not the image that people are left with in two years," said Zelizer.

Among the campaign issues that energized the Tea Party was a promise to repeal the health care bill that was passed earlier this year after a bitter legislative battle, while others in Congress favor modifying the bill.

"The GOP really needs to decide whether their strategy is to try to obtain some legislation that their supporters would like or to focus on a strategy on pure obstruction and grandstanding. Both have dangers and benefits," Zelizer said.

Sydney Blumenthal, a former Clinton adviser and author of "The Strange Death of Republican America: Chronicles of a Collapsing Party," said Boehner will be tested by having to integrate the more conservative Tea Party members with House veterans.

"The balance for the Republicans is going to be very difficult to maintain given the weight of the far right within the House conference and the immediate, instant start of the Republican presidential season with Sarah Palin as a major force, if not a candidate," said Blumenthal.

But Republican strategist Ron Kaufman told ABC News that Americans can expect the incoming GOP class to get done what they promised voters during the campaign and said that he expects the party to be less divided than some analysts are predicting.

Republican Tea Party Heads for Congress

The Republicans who were elected are "serious as a heart attack about doing what they're saying what they're going to," Kaufman said.

"Our first priority of this new Congress has to be what we said it should be – which is cutting spending, making government more effective," he said. "Exit polling has showed that voters who cast ballots against Democrats did so because of health care reform."

"And so the Republicans will get out of the business of health care reform. We have no choice. This was our agreement with the voters," he said.

At a press conference this morning, Boehner told reporters that now that the GOP has seized control of the House the party has a "big job ahead."

"We're humbled by the trust that the American people have placed in us, and as I said last night, our now job is to listen to the people and follow the will of the American people," said Boehner. "It's pretty clear the American people want us to do something about cutting spending here in Washington, and helping to create an environment where we'll get jobs back in our country. We've got a big job ahead of us and that's why you'll see us roll up our sleeves and go to work today."

Asked whether the results of the election indicate a vote against Obama administration or vote for the Republican Party, Boehner said the vote was "a mandate for Washington to reduce the size of government and continue our fight for a smaller, less costly and more accountable government."

"American people spoke and I think it's pretty clear that the Obama/Pelosi agenda is being rejected by the American people," Boehner said. "They want the president to change course, and I think it's change course we will."

Zelizer agrees, calling the Republicans "total winners" of the midterm elections.

"Republicans have as an asset in not winning the Senate. It's a not a Republican Congress and so it will be hard for the Obama adminstration to blame Congress in two years" for any shortcomings, he said.

But Republicans face a danger if little is accomplished over the next two years, leaving the party appearing to be ineffective come the 2012 elections.

A Washington veteran, Boehner is aware of the struggles the House will have getting legislation approved, according to Zelizer, and will likely encourage his party to focus on "making Obama a one-term president."

"The parties are so polarized, there's a divided Congress and dividied government, so the idea that you can get anything done is sort of a fantasy," he said.

Blumenthal says that the burden is on Obama to capitalize on whatever the GOP decides to do, be it attempt to pass legislatoin or simply use their post in Congress as a podium.

"President Obama must defend the gains he made in his first two years in office," he said.

According to Zelizer, Democrats could benefit from reminding the electorate of the final days of the Bush adminstration where he says Republicans were shown to be great at campaigning and attacking their opponents, but less effective at actually governing.

"The GOP doesn't want to be accused of not doing anything and not proposing anything for the next two years. That's the charge Boehner want to avoid," said Zelizer.

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