House Republicans after Michel

October 13, 1993

House Republican Leader Robert Michel's announcement that he will not seek re-election was delivered with a sense of sadness (things unaccomplished) and relief (more time for golf and gardening). He was elected to the House of Representatives from Peoria in 1956, and his party was not then and has never since been the majority party in the House.

To Mr. Michel and many of his generation (he's 70), this reality led to efforts to go along with Democratic leaders on some issues in hopes of concessions and smooth operations. His recent predecessors as leaders, including President Gerald Ford, took a similar view. It is an approach that has fallen out of fashion with many in the permanent Republican minority, and for good reason. Democrats who consider their majority status a matter of divine right have been arrogant in their treatment of the Republicans. It is possible that the minority leader would have had to fight to keep his post in the next Congress. The No. 2 Republican in the House, Whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia, had refused to pledge not to oppose him.

Mr. Gingrich, a 50-year-old Georgian, is an assertive conservative intellectual and advocate of combat with the Democrats. He made his mark by leading the effort to oust Speaker Jim Wright, a Democrat. He won the whip's job by defeating a relatively moderate ally of Mr. Michel's from Illinois. He is now the favorite to become minority leader. Rep. Gerald Solomon, 63, of New York, announced he is a candidate, but he probably will not be in the end.

Florida Rep. Bill McCollum, 49, the vice chairman of the Republican Conference, is seeking the whipship, as are Rep. Robert Walker of Pennsylvania, 51, and Texas Rep. Tom DeLay, 46. Since Texas Rep. Richard Armey, 53, is likely to remain the Republican Conference chairman, a generational and perhaps demographic shift is apparently under way (in addition to an ideological one). Mr. Michel's Midwest is about to be shut out -- and the Northeast may be, too. Messrs. Gingrich, McCollum, DeLay and Armey each was elected or re-elected to his current party office in a contest against a more moderate Republican, and each is from a largely suburban, overwhelmingly white Sun Belt district.

That makes for a pretty narrow spectrum of the party -- and is no more likely to turn this permanent minority into a majority than were Representative Michel's accommodating ways. Maybe less.

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