GOP Leaders Cast Broadly for Strategic Advice

Posted October 19, 2009 at 6:44pm

House Republican leaders have enlisted a broad group of outside advisers, ranging from veterans of the 1994 Republican revolution to aides from successful state-level campaigns, to help them fight their way back to power.

GOP leaders feel they have built some momentum against the agenda of President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress, and they are turning to outside political experts for advice on how to turn that momentum into electoral victories.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) said former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist have remained close advisers.

“Newt is very good at technically and tactically understanding how and where we are headed,— Sessions said.

Norquist’s weekly breakfast meeting on Wednesdays still draws staffers for Sessions, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) to hear representatives from dozens of conservative groups speak about their agendas.

Norquist said he has encouraged House Republicans to continue rejecting Democratic legislation if they believe the bulk of the bill runs counter to their beliefs. The next step is for Republicans to craft their own alternatives even if no one is paying attention to them and to talk about what they will do if they win back the majority.

Norquist said Republicans are currently in the last stage.

“That’s why you are hearing about the idea of transparency, [such as] bills being posted online for 72 hours [before they are voted on],— he said.

Sessions said in addition to the traditional GOP idea men, he also talks to National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s Mark Mix and several former legislators in Texas whom he considers politically astute.

“I talk to people whose opinions are big and broad,— Sessions said. “Those are the people that I’m listening to.—

Rep. Mike Rogers (Mich.), NRCC’s Member retention chair, agreed with Sessions that a vast network is needed in order to understand what challenges Republicans could face as the 2010 elections draw closer.

“It’s not as simple in having one group and that’s it. I think there are lots of groups and lots of input and it all comes back through the NRCC and leadership, sometimes both,— Rogers said. “We like to cross-pollinate here.—

Chief Deputy Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) said there is value in studying what happened in 1992 and 1994 and in talking to those who participated in the Republican revolution, such as Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who headed the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997.

McCarthy said it was equally important to talk to Republicans making inroads today such as New Mexico Republican Richard Berry, who from his seat in the state House defeated a Democratic incumbent mayor earlier this month. McCarthy also said he is talking to campaign aides for former Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell, who is currently leading in the state’s gubernatorial race.

He added that members of leadership have strongly advised their members to listen to people in their districts.

“What you do is you take some of [the advice from local politicians] and apply it to Washington,— Sessions said.

In addition to political advisers, the GOP leaders have recruited a group of policy wonks to help Republicans capitalize on what they see as the Democrats’ poor handing of the economy.

Last week, Boehner released a list of “kitchen cabinet economic advisers— who are helping Republicans combat Democratic assertions that the stimulus is working.

The advisers, including Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Keith Hennessey, Alex Brill, Jim Capretta and Tom Miller, are part of a latest offensive in the GOP’s “Where Are the Jobs?— campaign, launched this summer by House Republicans and pushed by Boehner.

Holtz-Eakin, a former top economic adviser for Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign, said the failure of the stimulus and over-spending in the budget will be easy targets for Republicans to point to in 2010.

“It has to be about changing direction,— Holtz-Eakin said, adding that the economy will not recover if the administration continues to spend taxpayer funds.

Holtz-Eakin said it was important that House Republicans “cast a wide net— and talk to a range of advisers in order to get a full range of opinions.

“I’m wrong all the time,— he joked.

Republicans have also reached out to American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick Kagan and his wife, Kimberly Kagan — who is president of the Washington-based think tank the Institute for the Study of War — to advise them on national security issues.

Megan Ortagus, a spokeswoman for the Institute for the Study of War, said the group is a nonpartisan nonprofit that briefs members of both parties frequently on the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan.