Leadership challenges are neither anticipated nor welcome among House Republicans. This much is clear from reading the rules the House Republican Conference adopted late last year.
No organization with elected leadership can completely insure against revolt from within. Under Rule 5, conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, can call a meeting, but so can a request from 20 percent of the members. Once assembled, two-thirds can vote to suspend the rules, at which point anything goes.
The very first rule of the conference governs the procedures of expulsion. The power to expel implies all the lesser powers, including the power to suspend or remove from leadership. It isn’t written anywhere, but coups are occasionally done under Robert’s Rules of Order.
Given that there are 240 Republicans, it would take 161 to change the direction of leadership by changing any member of the leadership — speaker, leader or whip — or any key rule of the conference.
Eighty-seven of the Republicans are freshmen, almost wholly untethered to House GOP tradition. Many are in precarious electoral positions as redistricting changes their electoral maps and groups such as the Tea Party Patriots keep close watch.
Then there is the Republican Study Group led by the very competent and direct Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. With 175 members, the RSC can provide the forum from which rebellion can be organized and alliances with non-RSC members explored.
A far more radical move still would be if as few as 25 Republicans sought to return the gavel to Rep. Nancy Pelosi for a few months as a means of sweeping aside a leadership gone off the rails. Some would argue that honest and clever politics demand that a tax-and-spend Congress is best run by the party that believes in taxing and spending.
None of this might happen. But what certainly won’t happen is quiet acceptance of any “deal” that either raises taxes or cuts defense, or increases the debt limit without significant domestic cuts and real budgeting reform.
The GOP won in November 2010, and its grass-roots and tea party activists will not forgive a third stand-down. The first came when the conference promoted the old guard everywhere. The second came with the collapse in the first spending showdown.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have been nearly invisible before their core public constituencies. The speaker’s appearance on Sean Hannity’s show a week ago was noteworthy only for its rarity and for the fact that even as Boehner foreswore tax hikes, secret negotiations were under way on “revenue enhancements.”
The House GOP’s insider game has cheered the Manhattan-Beltway media elite and fattened the wallets of the K Street insiders who profit from secrecy and small changes to dense print not read by the conference until voting occurs.
But it is provoking a strong reaction that threatens the majority in November 2012 and the leadership even earlier.
November 2010 wasn’t a vote for secrecy and “trust us, we know what we are doing” politics. The apparent arrogance and transparent indifference to the Republican Party’s base on the part of leadership has already done immense damage, and as the endgame nears on the most important decisions of 2011, the betting is that the House GOP leadership will fold again and the fabled “Pledge to America” torn up a second time.
Examiner columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at www.hughhewitt.com.