Oct 23 2015
At first, I didn’t have strong feelings about the House Speaker’s race. More than anything, it seemed that what mattered was not who the next speaker is but what the next speaker does. I shared my thoughts with the handful of House colleagues who asked for them, but, as a senator, I didn’t feel it was my place to broadcast them.
Then, we saw the Republican establishment’s overheated reaction to McCarthy’s surprise withdrawal from the race. Soon thereafter, many more people started asking my opinions about the race when a New York Times columnist nominated yours truly for the job.
I have no interest in that job, of course. But given this strange new environment, I thought it might now be appropriate for me to suggest a few lessons conservative reformers can take from the events of the last few weeks, for whatever they are worth.
Lesson 1: Politics is a team sport.
Lesson 2: Uncertainty is good for us.
Lesson 3: This is only the beginning; creative destruction is coming to Washington.
Lesson 4: It’s time to bring Uber-level, open-sourcing innovation to Congress.
Taken together, I believe these four lessons point toward the terms of a more perfect union between anti-establishment conservatives and Republican congressional leaders, neither of whom can truly succeed without the other.
The path to unity is neither decapitating leadership nor unquestioning obedience in the back benches. Rather, it’s the creation of a different model for governing better suited to modern realities.
Conservatives shouldn’t want more brinksmanship and showdowns to highlight our ideas; we should want a consistent, inclusive legislative process that renders those tactics all but obsolete. Contrary to so much punditry these past few weeks, I don’t think conservatives need a Speaker all Republicans can blindly trust to cut backroom deals for us, but a Speaker who organizes the House’s work so backroom deals become a thing of the past.
If you actually talk to conservative House members about what they want in a new Speaker, you’ll find they don’t mention names or ideology. What they want most are changes to House and conference rules, which will — in their minds — give the legislative process more fairness and legitimacy in this new, “disrupted” political climate. (In the Senate, on the other hand, we don’t need new rules so much as we need more rigorous application of the current rules. Long live the filibuster! But that’s an argument for another time.)
The upshot of these reforms would involve less leadership micromanagement of the floor, less-certain outcomes on votes, more rank-and-file input on chairmanships and the agenda, longer work weeks for members, and — not least — a healthy, constructive outlet for anti-establishment conservatives’ laudable pursuit of more rapid and substantial reform.
In an absence of trust, what Republicans need now is an abundance of transparency. For conservatives, greater transparency and institutional decentralization won’t mean we can suddenly win every fight. It will only mean we can fight fights of our choosing, and win or lose them fair and square.
Leadership, on the other hand, should stop trying to rig the process to control the marketplace of ideas, and simply give the American people and their elected representatives access to a fair, open, and accountable competition. Like Uber, but for Congress.
"The path to unity is neither decapitating leadership nor unquestioning obedience in the back benches. Rather, it’s the creation of a different model for governing better suited to modern realities."
Again, creative destruction is coming to Washington, whether we like it or not. In fact, in many ways, it already has. Speaker Boehner is exiting the stage and Paul Ryan is poised to step up to the job, thanks in large part to the efforts of the dreamers and disruptors in the House.
For Ryan to succeed in fostering an open-source, creative, and collaborative environment in the House – as I believe he is capable – it will take more than just plans and promises. He will need a concrete, realistic agenda of prudent but disruptive institutional innovations, the will and commitment to stick with it when the going gets tough, and a united G.O.P. House conference working together to wrest back legislative authority from the executive branch and make federal lawmaking more directly accountable to the American people than ever.
In this new era, Washington’s centralized status quo has been scheduled for the “destruction” side of the equation; it’s up to conservative reformers now to deliver the “creative.”