Some Republicans are calling for a return to Goldwater-Reagan ideals of limited government and fiscal restraint.
Even before the votes were counted, the 2006 election set off a sweeping critique of what went wrong both within the Republican Party and among groups that once backed it.
On Capitol Hill, the power struggle to lead the new Republican minority is already under way. On Wednesday, Speaker Dennis Hastert announced he will not to seek the minority leader post in the next Congress.
Those with close ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff – or who knew about disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley's e-mails to pages and failed to act – need not apply. Lawmakers are awaiting the results of a bipartisan ethics investigation on a possible coverup in the page scandal, which could produce more openings in GOP leadership.
But GOP self-critics say that the bad environment – scandals, war, the economy, or the president – doesn't account for this historic GOP defeat. The need, they say, is to get back to the principles that won them their majority in 1994.
Call it a bridge to the insurgent past. While the Republican Class of '94 campaigned to balance federal budgets, the GOP in power has racked up massive deficits. The party that campaigned to limit the size of government instead vastly expanded it. And the party that railed against entitlements created the biggest expansion of one, the 2003 Medicare prescription drug program, in a generation.
"We did not just lost our majority, we lost our way," said Rep. Mike Pence (R) of Indiana, one of 25 Republicans who voted against the prescription drug plan. He also chairs the conservative Republican Study Group, the largest group in the caucus.
"While the scandals of the 109th Congress harmed our cause, the greatest scandal in Washington, D.C., is runaway federal spending," he added in a statement within hours of the historic defeat. Mr. Pence sat out the fight in January to replace Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas as majority leader, but he is now widely seen as a top contender. On Wednesday he announced his candidacy for the top GOP post. "Only by making a dramatic turn in the direction of the Republican Revolution can we hope to attain majority status," he wrote in a letter to his GOP colleagues.