Republicans are very disappointed in the “red fizzle,” but they are still very likely to take control of the House of Representatives and they see a silver lining and a positive future in Ron DeSantis’s tremendous victory in Florida. The result has some parallels to 2020 when Democrats won the White House but lost seats in the House. There are clearly cross-currents in the electorate and neither party has a mandate.
It’s notable that the shots Donald Trump took at Governor DeSantis before the election had no impact at all. In fact, DeSantis was far the biggest winner on Tuesday. He won by a huge margin. He won Miami-Dade County. He won Hispanics. He won women. He won the suburbs. He now has a Republican supermajority in the state legislature. Florida was a purple state not long ago. It is as if the projected red tsunami occurred, but only in Florida.
House Republicans will meet on Tuesday to choose their leaders. These are simple majority votes amongst Republicans in conference, except for Kevin McCarthy who will also need a majority of the whole House in January to become Speaker. The narrower than expected majority means he may have to make some promises to various groups of members. Nancy Pelosi had to do the same thing a few years ago. Steve Scalise is fairly certain to be the majority leader, but there is an ongoing race for Republican Whip.
When it comes to committees, the key thing to remember is that Republicans have term limits for their chairmen, so we’ll have some new faces. The powerful Ways and Means Committee will have a new chairman, and there is a spirited contest underway for that. Cathy McMorris Rogers will take the gavel at the very important Energy & Commerce Committee. Virginia Foxx is favored to get a term-limits waiver to take back the gavel of the Education and Labor Committee, citing both precedent and strong support from her colleagues. Jim Jordan, a leader of the Freedom Caucus, will be chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Most House committees are going to be focused on oversight for the next two years, in part because divided government will limit how much legislating can be done. Some of it will be backward-looking. Issues in this category include the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Hunter Biden’s laptop, the origins of Covid, and the perceived politicization of the FBI. Committees will also focus on domestic energy production, China, ESG, “woke capitalism,” antitrust, and free expression issues. Perhaps the most significant change from past Republican majorities is that CEOs should expect to be subpoenaed. The Republican Party is no longer the party of big business.
Attention will inevitably turn to the House Freedom Caucus. This is actually a fairly diverse group of legislators. They are not all bomb throwers and they are not all Trump acolytes. They are, however, all self-described conservatives, but even that can mean different things. But if they stay united, they will definitely have leverage. Of course, that’s true for any group of members with an agenda, including moderates. The far bigger Republican Study Committee—the original and more mainstream conservative caucus—will play a very important role as House Republicans’ de facto policy committee. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma will be the new chairman of the RSC. It will be interesting to see if conservatives return to their traditional focus on fiscal restraint and entitlement reform. The Tea Party movement was laser-focused on these issues. The Medicare Trustees are still ringing the alarm bell on entitlement spending and inflation has definitely brought spending levels back to the fore. Congress is also going to have to address another debt limit soon. Conservatives can be expected to leverage the debt limit to turn attention to debt and spending. Exactly how they do that remains to be seen.
Both parties will focus on content moderation, but for very different reasons. There is vastly more information going through fewer channels than ever before. Determining the first ten hits in your search engine results or social media feed is an awesome power that makes Republicans and Democrats very nervous. Conservatives believe that Progressives are no longer committed to civil liberties and want to control these media to suppress conservative ideas they disagree with. This layers on top of longstanding concerns about ideological conformism in academia, journalism, and elite institutions generally. At the same time, Progressive groups are concerned about online racism and conspiracy theories. This debate will continue and may even escalate.
There are two possible futures for the GOP: one in which Donald Trump is nominated again for the presidency and one in which Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, or another Republican picks up the baton. Congressional Republicans have only a short window to act on their own priorities before the 2024 presidential contest overwhelms them.