As we sit alongside Baltimore’s bustling Inner Harbor, Will tells me that this new majority is quite different from the bumptious, Gingrich-led majority of 1994. After three decades in the wilderness, Gingrich’s House Republicans fell victim to triumphalism — but having regained the majority after a mere four years out of power, the Boehner-Cantor Republicans realize how fragile their victory is.
“The leadership has a little more sobriety in it this time,” Will observes. “There is just a degree of seriousness now, that there wasn’t then, about the larger issues confronting the country. What happened in ’94 arose from things like the House bank scandal, disaffection over the crime bill, all that stuff — nothing like [the bailout of] General Motors, the ‘stimulus,’ and quantitative easing.”
House Speaker John Boehner, Will adds, is smartly taking a low-key approach. “You don’t want a congressional leader pretending he is on a par with the president,” he says. “It was one thing for Clay, Webster, and Calhoun to be on a par with some of the mediocre presidents of the first half of the 19th century, when the ethic of presidential power was that you did not speak to the country. We live in an entirely new world. There is no point in a congressman from Cincinnati trying to peg up, because he has a different job, and a really important one.”
The lingering question is whether this rejuvenated GOP crew has “the patience of politics.” While it was surely buoyed by hot Tea Party fervor, its success (or failure), Will notes, will come in how it tangles, not necessarily by what it passes.