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December 22, 2014

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POLITICAL MEMO:

Frustration, anger among Republicans growing

House Republicans unveiled a new slogan last week, “Change You Deserve,” which, besides sounding vaguely malevolent, shared a slogan with an anti-depressant medication.

It was fitting, given the dark mood among House Republicans after the party lost a third consecutive special election, this one in blood-red Mississippi, in a district President Bush won by 25 points. This would be like a Republican losing in Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District (encompassing just a portion of Clark County and all the rest of the state).

Unthinkable, right?

Here’s a slice of analysis by Rep. Tom Davis, a retiring Virginia Republican who framed the ugly landscape in a memo:

“The political atmosphere facing House Republicans this November is the worst since Watergate and is far more toxic than the fall of 2006 ...”

The simmering anger among Republican backbenchers grew to full boil.

A New York Times report offered this amusing line: “Worried House Republicans demanded that their leadership come up with a plan to stave off potentially devastating losses in November,” as if somehow a magic pony would save them.

Rep. Tom Cole, the Oklahoman who heads up the House Republicans’ campaign committee, suggested the problem is more fundamental than tactics. “When you lose three of these in a row you have to get beyond campaign tactics and take a long, hard look — is there something wrong with your product?”

Product? Is the lingo indicative of a corporate mind-set that might be related to the party’s problem?

But never mind that. Cole is right about the product and the need for an overhaul.

Jennifer Duffy, an analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, noted that politics — polls, message, attack ads — has limitations, by which she means, governance matters.

“What was the last big idea the Republican Party had?” she said.

The answer is the plan to privatize Social Security, which died an ugly death because the more the public learned about it, the less it liked it.

Republicans have a bare policy cupboard, with little in the way of new ideas to deal with mutating challenges that simply didn’t exist five years ago: A collapsed housing market and exploding energy, food and health care costs that are depressing American living standards. And of course the war in Iraq.

In tough times especially, Duffy noted, people want government to solve problems.

Big thinkers in the conservative movement — David Frum, Ross Douthat — understand the crisis of conservative governance and have begun to discuss a new agenda.

But that will come later. For now, it’s every man for himself.

Cole advised members to use Arizona Sen. John McCain as a model and develop a “brand” of their own, separate from the party “brand.” (Again, sounding like a soap salesman.)

Rep. Jon Porter of the 3rd Congressional District, in suburban Southern Nevada, clearly gets it. He’s been pursuing a “suburban agenda” for several years and tried to get House leadership to follow a pragmatic, no-nonsense policy path in 2006. (They opted for flag-burning, gays and “Defeatocrats” instead. It failed.)

Porter once voted with the Republican majority and the Bush administration 90 percent of the time, but now is down to about 70 percent.

His problem, aside from the presence of 20,000 more Democrats than Republicans in the district, is that the challenger, state Sen. Dina Titus, will question who the real Porter is and turn his left turn into a character defect.

Rep. Dean Heller, who was a moderate Republican in state politics before running for Congress, got the scare of his life in 2006 from a far-right Republican primary challenger. Here’s what he seems to have taken from that experience: No one will ever run to the right of Dean Heller in the 2nd Congressional District.

For the most part, Heller has been a solidly conservative congressman, and last month he gave an effective speech that attacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats’ presumptive nominee, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Heller is counting on his conservative base, the huge, 30,000 Republican registration advantage in rural and Northern Nevada, to protect him against the Democratic gales.

He faces Jill Derby in a rematch of 2006.

Surely he can’t lose in that district, right?

Sun Washington correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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