Republicans look back to Reagan era for inspiration
By Joanne Kenen
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Looking to the future after their "seismic" loss of power in the U.S. Congress, some Republicans are turning to the past and the glory days of Ronald Reagan's presidency for inspiration.
"We are in the wilderness because we walked away from the limited government principles that minted the Republican Congress," Rep. Mike Pence wrote to colleagues after Democrats seized control of the House of Representatives and the Senate in this week's elections.
The Indiana Republican, a major voice of the conservative wing in the House who is seeking a leadership position in his party, described himself as dedicated to providing "a credible and persuasive voice for the Reagan agenda."
"Now is the time to return to the ideals that swept us into a governing majority," said John Shadegg of Arizona, quoting from the 1994 Contract with America, the manifesto of Reagan's ideological heirs. Shadegg also is seeking a leadership role.
As Pence, Shadegg and other figures maneuver for influence in the new Democratic-controlled Congress, the dominant Republican themes are fiscal discipline, tax cuts and conservative purity. They are not talking much about Iraq or foreign policy.
So far no Republican moderates have ventured into the leadership arena, and the one moderate who had been part of that circle, Deborah Pryce of Ohio, announced she is leaving after barely surviving her re-election bid.
But some of the dwindling band of moderate Republicans are speaking up, urging that their party move toward the center, where the recent election showed many American voters are most comfortable.
Delaware Republican Mike Castle, one of his party's most respected centrists, said that voters sent a message on Iraq, ethics and the Bush presidency. Republicans should look at the election as a "seismic upheaval," he said.
"I don't know that any of that gets cured by going back to Ronald Reagan," he said, adding that lawmakers should focus on issues like lobbying abuses, the environment, energy, education and spending. "I don't think we need a lot more votes on the so-called social conservative issues."
But Joe Barton of Texas, also considering joining the House Republican leadership race, doesn't see the party of Reagan as extreme.
"Our party does not suffer the affliction of being a boiling mad collection of fringe interests with notions so cockeyed that they ultimately rub each other raw and make average Americans cringe," Barton said. "Republicans will never be that."
With so many of the incoming House and Senate Democrats identifying themselves as moderate or centrist, it may be hard to pin a "fringe" label on either party, no matter how often Republicans refer to Democratic Speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi as a "San Francisco liberal."
Many of the newcomers are socially conservative on issues like guns and abortion and hawkish on the budget, but in sync with the Democratic domestic agenda on raising the minimum wage, making college more affordable, developing alternative energy and addressing health-care costs.
A lot of Republicans are looking ahead, seeing in their losses what Missouri Republican Roy Blunt called "a significant silver lining."
Republicans have had other big setbacks at the polls, he said, but "right around the corner of each of those defeats was an opportunity to come back more focused, more dedicated, more committed, better communicating and better understood than conservatives had been before."