Conservatives in the Senate are an endangered species. With Jeff Sessions vacating his seat, there will be a huge void in the House of Lords, which has fewer than 15 conservatives — and that is being charitable. After failing to elect a single, new conservative to the Senate this year, it is vital that the grassroots mobilize for 2018 and to fill any vacancies that might arise with cabinet picks.
The Senate is worse than you think. There is far from a 52-48 conservative majority.
Traditionally, it has been Senate Republicans who have sand-bagged every opportunity conservatives created in pursuit of limited government reforms. Senate RINOs, led by Bob Dole, turned the Senate into a graveyard for the Contract with America reforms pushed by Newt Gingrich and House Republicans, as was the case when Republicans controlled the Senate during the Reagan administration. They also dogged President Bush during the time when Republicans controlled all three branches, even on the conservative initiatives he proposed. If conservatives don’t think of a new game plan and prepare to win more primaries, here is what is confronting us in the House of Lords.
A Senate leadership that sides with Democrats on critical issues
As much as conservatives complain about House Republicans, they look like the Founding Fathers compared with their Senate counterparts. For a cursory glance of what our policies will be confronted with in the Senate, take a look at this chart of Senate leaders and likely chairmen of key policymaking committees for the upcoming session.
I already analyzed Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, John McCain, and Thad Cochran before the election in my piece on the four fossils that are using the Senate as a retirement home. But take a look at some of the other scores here.
Lamar Alexander will oversee any critical reforms on health care and education, yet he has an astounding 15% Liberty Score®, lower than some Democrats! Lamar has already signaled that he doesn’t want to repeal fully the costly Obamacare coverage mandates that are solely responsible for the skyrocketing premiums.
What about energy? We have Lisa Murkowski as the quarterback on all issues pertaining to energy. She has a 20% Liberty Score® and has bought into the global warming agenda.
What about military and foreign policy? Bob Corker and John McCain will continue to chair the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, respectively. They have been a part of the problem in misdirection on foreign policy for years.
Even those with better liberty scores, such as Mike Crapo, are problematic. Despite his slightly better voting record than current banking chair Richard Shelby, Crapo is actually a step down on this issue. While serving as one of the top members on the Senate Banking Committee for years, Crapo has been reluctant to phase out federal involvement in housing policy and is regarded as only a lukewarm opponent of the Dodd-Frank regulations, much less so than Shelby.
What about spending cuts? Good luck getting those past appropriations chairman Cochran, who is indistinguishable from a Democrat in his legacy of federal largesse.
Transportation and infrastructure? This is an issue for which conservatives will have to battle the administration in order to devolve spending to the states instead of expanding it on a federal level. Some might be heartened that James Inhofe, a big proponent of federal control of transportation, is termed out as chairman of the committee. But his likely successor, John Barrasso is just as bad.
Reforming food stamps and farm subsidies? Over the dead body of big-spender, Pat Roberts.
For conservatives looking for change in these critical spheres of policy, wherever they turn they will meet stiff resistance. Each one of these chairmen either fundamentally don’t share our values on the issues within their respective jurisdictions or they value working with the Left more than with conservatives.
The landscape for 2018
The 2018 Senate map is a dream landscape for Republicans. They will defend only eight seats, while Democrats must defend 25. Furthermore, almost all of the GOP incumbents are in solid Republican states — with Dean Heller (RINO-Nev) being the only legitimately vulnerable seat. On the other hand, Democrats have an endless number of potential vulnerabilities.
Seven states should be vulnerable right off the bat either due to Trump carrying those states by a substantial margin or because of the dynamics of state politics: Indiana (Joe Donnelly), North Dakota (Heidi Heitkamp), Missouri (Claire McCaskill), West Virginia (Joe Manchin), Montana (Jon Tester), Ohio (Sherrod Brown), and Florida (Bill Nelson).
Then there are the three traditionally blue-leaning states that Trump was able to narrowly win and are exceedingly more red during mid-term elections: Pennsylvania (Bob Casey), Michigan (Debbie Stabenow), and Wisconsin (Tammy Baldwin). In addition, there are states like Minnesota (Amy Klobuchar) and Maine (Angus King), where Trump lost narrowly but could easily shift in a midterm with lower Democrat base turnout.
In total, Republicans could easily make a run at a 60-seat super-majority in the Senate. But what’s the point of a GOP super-majority if we continue the trajectory of automatically nominating Mitch McConnell yes-men for those races? Republicans could win 70-80 seats in the Senate and it will never be enough because we will continue filling those seats with Democrat-lite politicians. The party establishment is already trying to recruit moderate House candidates to challenge these vulnerable Democrats. Achieving a 60-seat GOP majority with just 15 conservatives in the Senate will get us nowhere.
In addition, it would be a shame for conservatives to allow RINOs such as Jeff Flake, Roger Wicker, Bob Corker, and Orrin Hatch (assuming he breaks his pledge and runs again) to get a free pass in their primaries. Ultimately, I believe we need to push state parties and legislatures to change election law and transform Senate and House primaries into representative conventions to give the grassroots an equal footing against the K Street interests. But until that is accomplished, conservatives must begin recruiting candidates now.
During the Constitutional Convention, in explaining the unique role of the Senate, James Madison predicted that the upper chamber would serve as a “necessary fence” against the “fickleness and passion” of the House of Representatives. That was at a time when they liked the government they had conceived and wanted to prevent demagogues from playing on people’s impetuous impulses to alter the government they created.
After 100 years of post-constitutionalism, however, our government as it was originally adopted is unrecognizable. The Senate, therefore, is now being used as a fence against the requisite passion necessary to restore our republic. We need more men of passion, lest the “Senate saucer” only be used to cool conservative tea and insulate the steaming pile of progressive bile we seek to remove.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.