A Republican House leader said Wednesday that President Bush and his party's congressional leadership caved on principles to help the top of their presidential ticket during the Wall Street bailout and that there could be a leadership purge if enough Republican lawmakers lose their seats next month.
Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, said Republicans need to immediately create better alternatives to Democrats' policies and cannot assume that their party will automatically recapture lost seats in 2010 if Sen. Barack Obama is elected president this year.
"That's the first thing we've got to get out of their heads. That's not how this works," Mr. McCotter told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. "You will lose all the votes. What you will then do is craft an alternative that hits real people and frames the debate."
Mr. McCotter, Michigan Republican, said Republicans expect to lose 10 to 30 House seats in the elections Tuesday and that the final total likely will determine the fate of the party´s current leadership.
"No one knows what number could be a trigger," he said.
"Everybody's waiting for the number to know what is possible or not possible if they're shooting at [House Minority Leader John A.] Boehner, if they're shooting at [House Minority Whip Roy] Blunt, if they're shooting at anyone. But they're not going to be out there making calls, they're going to wait until the number comes in."
The 43-year-old congressman frequently referred to his roots, both as a Detroit native and an Irish Catholic, saying the latter explained why he's not the sort to be optimistic about congressional Republicans' chances in the Tuesday elections.
He is in his first term as policy committee chairman, and said he hasn't been approached by other members seeking his support to oust the current leaders, though he said as a "Boehner guy" - a supporter of the Ohio Republican - he isn't likely to be told. If an effort is under way, he said, it will surface after the elections so they don't appear to be putting their own prospects ahead of the party's.
Asked whether anyone else is ready to take the leader's role, Mr. McCotter was blunt: "There isn't."
He said Republicans under Mr. Boehner had a good year in 2007, buying time for the Iraq troop surge strategy to work and stopping expansion of government health care through the State Children's Health Insurance Program. He said 2008 was going well as Republicans demanded offshore drilling - until the financial mess hit.
He said the economic crisis exposed the split in the Republican Party.
"We ran into the bailout. The bailout touched upon the larger discussion in the Republican Party," he said. "It's not the conservatives versus the moderates, that's the rather cliched way of looking at it. What you really have are globalists versus traditionalists. Globalists tend to view America as an economy, not a country. The traditionalists tend to view it as a country - a very delicate microcosm, a collection of individuals with different hopes, dreams, aspirations."
Republican leaders in the House led many, though not a majority, of House Republicans in backing the bailout. Mr. McCotter said that was putting politics over principle.
"Unfortunately, many of the people in the House seemed to think our overarching goal was, as it was with President Bush, to support the top of the ticket, the nominal leader of the party, as opposed to worry about what happened to our members," he said.
He said aside from policy mistakes, such as turning over so much power to the Treasury secretary, the bailout also served to derail what had looked like a promising message for Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain because it shifted the election from a forward-looking question of options to a backward-looking referendum on Mr. Bush.
"When the bailout was passed it became eight years of deregulation, or whatever the Democrats are saying, and McCain supported the administration in what was the most watched and salient economic issue to Americans heading into this election," Mr. McCotter said. "He couldn't have taken a branding iron and put it on his forehead any better. That then, even if you voted against the bailout, that attached to you because your base Republicans and independents - independents actually hated it more than Republicans - started to deflate, and it became a referendum election."
Still, he said, the fact that most House Republicans opposed the bailout gives him hope. Mr. McCotter voted against the bailout.
"A majority of the House Republicans voted against that thing twice. Twice. So I think that gives us hope for the future, although not the immediate future," he said.
Mr. McCotter said rather than "compassionate conservative," Mr. Bush's administration has been defined by a globalist view.
"It tended to divorce itself from the average working people. It did not challenge the American people sufficiently. The Congress became, in many ways, the rubber stamp for this administration," he said. "It was not a separate equal branch of government that hurt us in 2006 and it continued to hurt us as the bailout progressed."
Another legacy is that Republicans have become politically "atrophied."
"Fundamentally bedrock politics, we are very bad at - just very bad. It's atrophied. It atrophied in what was called the permanent majority," he said.
He did defend the president, arguing that the world changed on him, diverting him from his goal of being a domestic reformer.
Just as former President Harry S. Truman's legacy has been rehabilitated by hindsight, he said, so might Mr. Bush's.
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