The post-election ritual in Washington is, by now well choreographed. Lobbying firms rush to recruit members of the ascendant party to plug into new hubs of power on Capitol Hill. Staffers for losing legislators brush off their résumés and enter a job market rendered bleak by their obsolete connections and partisan loyalties.
But despite the revolutionary fervour that inspired many of their winning campaigns in Tuesday’s mid-term elections, the newly elected Republicans who begin arriving in Washington soon to pick out their offices are not exactly naïve outsiders.
The new senator from Indiana, Dan Coats, is also an old senator from Indiana. After retiring in 1998 Coats became ambassador to Germany and a major lobbyist before deciding this year to pursue his old job. His new colleague from neighbouring Illinois, Mark Kirk, served for a decade in Congress, while the freshman from Ohio, Rob Portman, spent 12 years there before taking two major jobs in George W Bush’s Cabinet. Missouri’s newly elected Roy Blunt was his party’s deputy leader in the House before being deposed after the Republicans’ 2008 debacle and deciding he’d prefer to start anew in the Senate.
The more than 80 new Republicans joining January’s class in the House of Representatives does have its share of political dilettantes. (“There’s a pizzeria owner and former home economics teacher, a former Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman and an Iraq veteran who was the target of an assassination plot, a former ice hockey referee and a pottery maker and a gospel singer and a onetime prodigy portrait artist,” the Washington Post helpfully itemized.) But an analysis by the newspaper Politico found 70 per cent are following a traditional career path: one-time mayors, state and local legislators, or congressional aides. Five of the new arrivals are former legislators who reclaiming their old seats.
So far, in the few days since they retook the House, Republicans have shown that they’re comfortable with the trappings of power. Party leaders wisely called their election night event a “results watch” and not a celebration, dispatching with the standards balloons and confetti. Their statements on Wednesday demonstrated the same caution, steering largely clear of unnecessary triumphalism and making few promises. And the new members have followed their lead: perhaps surprisingly, given the rancor and ridiculous hyperbole that propelled many of them to office, none of them have yet said anything really stupid or unnecessarily confrontational.
Many of the Republicans coming to take control of the House and wield fresh leverage in the Senate know how to govern. In January, Americans will see if they really want to do so again.