The Charlie Dent Effect
Establishment Republicans are in a panic over the enduring popularity of Donald Trump. If Trump ends up being the GOP nominee party regulars can blame one of their own: Congressman Charlie Dent.
Congressman Dent (PA-15) has emerged as a spokesman for one of the most endangered species on Earth; moderate members of the U.S. House of Representative. His votes consistently defy the view of the party’s base and his rhetoric is what is driving the current national grassroots revolution against the party establishment.
Dent hails from the Lehigh Valley-based district once represented by Pat Toomey. Toomey became a conservative darling and used the district as a base to successfully launch a campaign for United State Senator. The region is known for being politically schizophrenic and is one of the true "swing" areas of the commonwealth in statewide and national elections.
The apostasies of Dent are many. He is staunchly pro-abortion in a party that views defense of life as a litmus test issue. On fiscal issues he ranks in the bottom quarter of the entire Republican conference with a 2014 Club for Growth scorecard rating of just 37%. On the more broad-based American Conservative Union (ACU) scorecard, he scored just 54%, again making him one of the more liberal members of the conference.
Briefly put, Charlie Dent is the personification of what Republican voters across the nation are rebelling against in the presidential race. Having elected a House majority in 2010 and a Senate majority in 2014 voters are fed up with the tepid course charted by legislative Republicans. They see congressional Republican leadership as ineffective at communicating a coherent party message and outmaneuvered legislatively at every turn by Barack Obama and the Democrats.
The most recent Real Clear Politics average of national polling in the presidential race finds Donald Trump and Ben Carson holding onto 47% of the vote. Add in the ten percent supporting Carly Fiorina and the "outsider" vote tallies 57%. U. S. Senator Ted Cruz, technically not an "outsider," but perhaps the most solidly conservative candidate in the race pulls 8%. Meanwhile, establishment favorites Jeb Bush and Chris Christie have fallen into also-ran status.
The resignation of House Speaker John Boehner has given members of that chamber the opportunity to change the dynamic of both feckless legislative leadership and the presidential race by electing a speaker who can become an effective voice for the party over the next year until the election of a new Republican president.
Instead the House Republican caucus has descended into chaos. Rather than put forth bold new leadership, Plan A was simply to fall back on business as usual and move everyone up a step on the leadership ladder. When it became clear the real conservatives in the conference would not go along, heir apparent Kevin McCarthy withdrew from the race. Plan B is to elevate 2012 Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan to the seat, but Ryan appears unwilling to go along with the procedural reforms conservatives are rightfully demanding as the price for their support.
Enter Congressman Dent who suggested Republicans should meet with Democrats and come up with a "bipartisan coalition to elect the next speaker." What?!? At precisely the time the party’s grassroots are practically shouting from the rooftops of Iowa and New Hampshire that they want a strong new voice for the party Dent proposes the exact opposite.
Dent and his diminishing band of fellow moderates would rather share power with Democrats than accommodate conservative members of their own conference and hear the very clear message being sent by the party’s grassroots. Nothing could be worst for the GOP than the spectacle of the next speaker being elected by the moderate faction of the Republican conference joining with Democrats against their conservative brethren.
The result of such an outcome would be twofold: First, any possibility of the GOP being an effective counter to President Obama’s "pen and phone" government would evaporate effectively rendering congress a useless appendage for the next year. Second, look for Donald Trump’s polling numbers to skyrocket as voters flock in ever larger numbers to the one man who they increasingly view as being able to fix things.
And, when Donald Trump stands in front of the Capitol building and places his hand on the Bible to take the oath of office as the next president of the United States, he should give a front row seat to Charlie Dent and the other Republican congressmen who made his victory possible.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected])
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