‘I am not here to be part of what I call the coalition of the comfortable,” Rep. Dan Lungren (R., Calif.) said on Monday. “We should be very uncomfortable right now.”
This was one of many rhetorical images that Lungren provided in a 40-minute conference call this week with conservative reporters and bloggers as he discussed his challenge to Rep. John Boehner (R., Ohio) for the position of House Minority Leader. Lungren told stories and provided such rhetorical images, but he failed to contrast himself with Boehner on any major issue or criticize any of his significant leadership decisions. He failed to do so despite repeated attempts from reporters to elicit such a contrast.
The main selling point Lungren offered for his candidacy was that he wanted to hold an extended debate over the party’s vision before leadership elections take place on Wednesday. “If we’re afraid of debating amongst ourselves, I can’t see how we can make the case to the American people to look to us for leadership,” he said. Boehner, who had initially greeted the debate idea coolly, finally agreed to it yesterday. It begins this morning at 8:30 A.M., and will be conducted entirely behind closed doors.
Lungren’s single specific criticism of Boehner’s leadership was the decision by House Republicans to adopt the slogan “Change You Deserve” in the run-up to this year’s election. The same slogan had been used by a pharmaceutical company marketing an anti-depressant, a fact that was amusingly exploited by House Democrats.
On policy, Boehner and Lungren are largely indistinguishable. Both men have voiced the need to return to conservative principles. Boehner’s voting record (ACU lifetime rating: 94) is just slightly more conservative than Lungren (ACU lifetime rating: 92.5).
Lungren made precisely the same case against the automotive bailout that Boehner has been making. “If we bail out Detroit, there is no end in sight,” he said. When asked to critique Boehner’s conduct in helping pass the Wall Street bailout, Lungren instead defended Boehner, objecting even to a reporter’s use of the term “bailout” to describe it. “I don’t criticize him for the approach he took on the Wall Street bailout, as you put it — the Wall Street recovery plan,” he said. If Republicans were excessively reactive in that debate, he went on, “I don’t put that on John Boehner, I put it on all of us.”
On Capitol Hill, members are keeping their cards close, but no one really seems to view Lungren’s candidacy as anything beyond a protest vote. “I’m sure that my boss will vote for Lungren on the first ballot, but that’s really just a protest vote,” said a staffer for one conservative member.
“There are a lot of people who don’t want Boehner,” said another aide. “But there isn’t much of a choice. There is no visible support for Lungren.” Even Rep. John Shadegg (R., Ariz.), who has called on Boehner to step aside voluntarily, has not endorsed Lungren. Lungren said in his conference call that he did not want to have a “coronation instead of a competition,” but he may only be providing the appearance of competition.
A lack of competition in this race does not necessarily mean that no lessons have been learned from the last two elections. Most people do not fault Boehner for the bad outcome. But with the number two and three House Republicans — Adam Putnam (Fla.) and Roy Blunt (Mo.) — stepping down from their leadership positions after the election, House Republicans look a lot like the football team that fires all of its assistant coaches and keeps the head coach after two consecutive losing seasons. Their fortunes may suddenly improve, but they may instead be putting off a rebuilding year that they cannot avoid forever. – David Freddoso is an NRO staff reporter.