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Commentary: Secrets to success in Washington

  • Story Highlights
  • Ed Rollins: Many Americans are looking forward to the new administration
  • He says smart people with big plans have failed before in Washington
  • Rollins: Harry Reid should seat Roland Burris, or face an unnecessary problem
  • He says Obama's biggest problem will be Congress, not Republicans
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By Ed Rollins
CNN Contributor
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Editor's Note: Ed Rollins, who served as political director for President Ronald Reagan, is a Republican strategist who was national chairman of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign.

Ed Rollins says many have come to Washington with big plans, only to see them dashed.

Ed Rollins says many have come to Washington with big plans, only to see them dashed.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- To most Democrats and many Americans, the Bush/Cheney nightmare is over!

With the start of the new Congress, and President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration two weeks away, there is a new hope that both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue can work together on some of the most serious problems facing this country in recent history.

The answers to solving those problems may not be apparent to ordinary Americans, but what they do know is the old way didn't work. And the voter's patience will be short, because they need help -- and they are scared.

As a veteran of several administrations who has worked in the White House and in Congress, I have watched a lot of smart people come to town with massive ideas and end up failing big time. So I am going to offer some unsolicited advice.

First to the Democrats:

Remember the game is now all yours. If you get the problems solved, the glory is all yours, too. If you fail, you don't have Bush and Cheney to blame anymore -- or any other Republican, for that matter.

The consequences of your actions will be far reaching. You are about to change the order of things and it's imperative that you work hard, make careful decisions and be strategic and look to the long view.

Don't be rushed by current events. Do something Congress has never done before. Plan. Read the bills that you are passing. And think of the kids who are going to have to pay for all this in the future.

To Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

Guide, don't dictate. Make your chairmen your allies, your members your customers, and punish those members who misbehave. Allow dissent but not rebellion!

You are still the public face of the Congress, the most unpopular body in town. You have to convince voters that you hear them and that this Congress is going to be different. If the public likes you, it will like the Congress. If it doesn't, you and your members will pay a price sooner or later.

Never be strident or petty. The steel fist inside the velvet glove is the rule. Think political at all times but never appear political. And don't be partisan. Be the leader of the House and always remember your party has a big majority and at the end of the day you can win.

To Majority Leader Harry Reid:

Seat Roland Burris! This is one battle you don't need. The last thing you and your caucus wants now -- or the new president needs -- is a battle over seating his replacement for the last two years of his term.

Roland Burris is a distinguished trailblazer who has been elected statewide four times. He will also be one of your safest votes. None of us like what Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has allegedly done, but don't make this the fight on principle to prove your point.

He is still the governor, he still has the appointment power and if the criminal justice system finds him guilty, he will be sitting in jail long after you and Sen. Burris are retired.

Also remember that after Inauguration Day, you are the most unpopular figure (according to polls) in town and not much better back home. Tone down your rhetoric. You can ask your pal Tom Daschle (former senator and majority leader from South Dakota) how one of the biggest men in town can lose his seat back home.

To my Republican friends in the House and Senate:

Be a real opposition party. Articulate what you stand for and stand up to the president and the Democrats with ideas that can counter the direction they will be taking the country.

Don't be timid and don't feel you have to be bipartisan because the media thinks that's the way to go. Also, don't get sucked into lowest common denominator solutions and vote with the Democrats on things that violate your stated principles.

Realize you are going to be in the wilderness for a time. The country needs an opposition party and you're it. Along with the Republican governors, you are going to have to cobble together the concepts and solutions that will attract voters back to our party.

To the president-elect:

Beware of your own party. Republicans are not your problem. Each member of Congress will think they are your constitutional equal. The more senior they are, the more they will test you.

You will have to remind them from time to time that if they want to be the constitutional equal, they need to bring the other 434 members over to your office.

Either that or they can go get another 66 million or so votes to add to their congressional total to be your equal. Many will have their own agendas and some of their ideas will be good ideas. Many more will be disastrous.

Also be careful how you staff your White House. You seem to have a lot of layers. Czars and counselors and assistants galore. You may have built in conflict on your own team.

What you really need is a small loyal staff who will present you the best options for the very tough decisions you will have to make every day.

Have somebody who is your reality check who will tell you the truth. That is a tough job but desperately needed. And lastly, make only big decisions. You've got a whole government out there to make the small ones.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Rollins.

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