By the time John Boehner took the podium at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC, the stage was set for the Republican restoration. The major networks had called a GOP takeover of the House hours earlier—with even more freshmen than came to Capitol Hill during Newt Gingrich's 1994 revolution. But amid the jubilant shouts from the crowd—"I love you!" "That's my boy"! "USA! USA! USA!"—the future House majority leader attempted to send the message that his supporters needed to sober up for a moment.
"This is not a time for celebration...not when we have buried our children under a mountain of debt," Boehner said as the crowd cheered and held up cell phone cameras. He repeated the "get serious" mantra moments later: "Let's start right now by recognizing this is not a time for celebration. This is a time to roll up our sleeves and go to work."
Even before Election Day, the National Republican Campaign Committee insisted that it wasn't going to be popping campaign corks on Tuesday night. The Grand Hyatt event "is not a 'party'—even if voters remove Democrats from power, you don't celebrate at a time when one in 10 Americans are out of work," a NRCC spokesman said last week.
The message, in other words, is that the Republicans will be serious about governing once they take power—and will vow to show restraint, despite having an obscenely large majority. But GOPers have already begun to list some of the obstructionist hijinks they could resort to once they take the House: ceaseless investigations into federal agencies, threats of impeachment, and anything it takes for Obama to end up being a one-term president.
Moreover, the influx of far-right and tea party-backed House members could encourage the GOP to pursue ideological crusades that end up consuming the party's agenda. And at least one veteran of the 1994 Republican revolution warned the GOP about venturing down such a path. "We had gotten distracted by some symbolic battles...government-subsidized art, for instance," says Michael Paranzino, a staffer for former Arizona GOP Rep. Matt Salmon, a member of Gingrich's freshmen class.
Paranzino warned the reborn GOP against launching small-bore, yet ideologically inflammatory crusades such as probes of PBS funding. "It's a lot of energy for a few million dollars here or there," he says, adding that Gingrich's 1998 downfall in the House gave him "the taste of disenchantment with a do-nothing Congress."
But despite early vows of restraint from ascendant leaders like Rep. Darrell Issa, the fist-pumping crowd at the Grand Hyatt made it harder to believe that the new Republican majority would be inclined to hold back. "It's a fucking bloodbath!" yelped one young attendee as more House results came up on the screen. When I asked a tight-lipped Hill staffer what he expected from a GOP-controlled House, he simply replied: "It's going to be entertaining."