Tony Perkins is President, and Ken Blackwell is Senior Fellow, Family Empowerment at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Hill on June 17, 2014.
Tuesday's unexpected and historic defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor stunned the political class and official Washington. A little-known and underfunded challenger prevailed against one of the most powerful men in Washington and one of the most visible Republican leaders in the country.
The message of that election is clear. The American people are looking for candidates who believe in and articulate the values and principles of Main Street America, not of Wall Street, K Street, and big business.
This rebuke offers Republicans in Congress, particularly the leadership, to reconnect with the conservatives who sent them there. Instead, it appears that every effort is being made to continue business as usual with leaders who are unlikely to pursue the type of reform-oriented conservative agenda that will unite the entire conservative movement, the Republican Party, and allow us to grow and lead for the future.
We cannot allow this opportunity to have an important debate about the future of a conservative agenda to turn into a rubber stamp for the status quo.
As conservative leaders, we realize that the decision on who to lead the Republican Party in Congress must and should be made by Republican members of Congress. At the same time, we would like to lay out a few criteria by which those looking to serve in leadership must be judged:
1) Are they a full-spectrum conservative? The Republican Party and conservative movement is at its best when it unifies all of our core elements-this includes libertarians and fiscal conservatives, defense hawks, and social conservatives and values voters. We cannot afford a leadership that will leave any part of our movement behind.
2) Do they have a record of leadership on key conservative causes? It is not enough just to vote the right way. We need leaders who will actually lead and advance a bold, reform-oriented conservative agenda. We must look at who has been leading the fight to repeal and defund Obamacare, cut taxes and spending, stop amnesty, protect life, marriage, and religious liberty, and reverse President Obama's dangerous hollowing out of our military forces.
3) Who do they surround themselves with? An effective leader must be surrounded with an effective team. They must keep close counsel with fellow conservatives inside and outside Congress, and be willing to listen to opposing views and be challenged. They must have competent and conservative staff.
4) Are they an effective and authentic communicator of our values and principles? Too often, conservatives have become jaded with leaders in Washington who say one thing and do another. Our leaders must be forthright communicators who actually do what they say they are going to do. They must be able to communicate winsomely and effectively in a way that grows our ranks.
5) What is their vision? Lately, Republican leadership in Congress has sorely lacked vision. Time after time, we see compromises without any clear articulation of what their ultimate goals and objectives are. Because of that, many conservatives have lost confidence. We need leaders who can clearly communicate their vision and lead the party in that direction. Only then can the damaged trust between Republican leadership and grassroots conservatives begin to be restored.
The choice before Republicans in Congress is historic. In all likelihood, many members of this new leadership team will be serving during what is hopefully the first term of a conservative President in 2016. Unfortunately, the time frame for this choice is short, but we encourage members to think seriously about their decision. Now is the time to unify the Republican Party and the conservative movement by selecting leaders who will challenge the status quo in Washington, pursue a bold conservative agenda, and begin the work of restoring the American Dream.