The Republican members of the House of Representatives are about to make the first mistake of their minority — holding leadership elections this Friday. We understand that the members judge the timing of the election to be inevitable — whatever their private preference. This will probably result in the re-election of their senior leadership team.
While it is up to the members to make their choices, by deciding on leaders before they have had a chance to more thoroughly judge their new situation and listen to the leadership candidates’ assessment of it, they are denying themselves their best chance to select well. They would be far wiser to postpone the leadership election until after Thanksgiving — and after the intense and frank discussions they must have at their retreat.
We have heard it said that the reason they need a snap election is to have their leadership in place to respond in the media to the Democrat’s leadership who will be in place. This is a flawed calculation. Inevitably — and logically — the media will give overwhelming attention to the pronouncements of the incoming Democratic majority over the next two months. Even if the Republican Party has its leaders in place, they will receive scant media attention while the spotlight is on the Democrats.
If they delay their election a few weeks, that will give time for both the current leadership and the many able new faces aspiring to leadership to discuss and develop their views on how to proceed from here. Whether after that debate the Republican members decide to stick with the old team, go with new faces or mix and match some of each, the elected leaders will be committed to an agreed upon set of strategies and tactics. If the old senior leadership is re-elected this week, that will inevitably truncate that needed debate and marginalize the opinions of back benchers in formulating the new strategies.
Political scientists and party strategists will spend literally years studying the full meaning of this landmark election. (After all, political scholars are still debating to what extent the Contract with America gave the Republicans their victory in 1994 — and to what extent it was simply a public rejection of President Clinton’s mistakes and Hillary’s health-care fiasco.) The Republican House members deserveat least a few weeks to think more fully about the implications that flow from this year’s fateful election before they make their leadership decisions.
About the only advantage to losing an election is that it gives a party a chance to shake off the cob webs and think anew: to reassess visions, strategies, projects, tactics and personnel. Republicans will lose even that sad advantage if they move ahead with personnel decisions before they have assessed where they want to go and how they want to get there.