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The Fall of Joe Martin

Brass Tacks

By Kenneth Auchincloss

The guillotine-swift blow that cut Joseph W. Martin off from the Republican leadership of the House Tuesday may rankle in G.O.P. Congressional ranks for some time. First of all, Martin was dumped with a gracelessness not soon to be forgotten by his many close friends in the House. And the 74 votes (against 70 for Martin) elevating Charles A. Halleck to the minority leader post represent an uneasy compromise between various Republican factions, one of which may well break down.

It seems clear that the caucus vote split along pro-Martin versus anti-Martin lines, rather than pro-Martin versus pro-Halleck. This is not to say that Joe Martin has a raft of political enemies; on the contrary he has made an extraordinary number of personal friends on both sides of the aisle. But the G.O.P.'s disaster at the polls in November, which shaved its Congressional forces to 153 against 283 Democrats, produced a good deal of "Fire the manager" sentiment among the members of the team.

Martin's 74 years were held against him. Many Republicans felt that his leadership in political battles had withered into listlessness and lack of imagination compared to his heroic days in 1939 (his first year as Republican leader) when, he boasts, "We had only 169 Republicans in the House, and we beat the New Deal in 18 major battles in a row." Some also hint that his warm friendship with Democratic Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn led Martin to compromise on the Republican position more than necessary.

These were the arguments of the anti-Martin voters, men who believed that the need for fresh, vigorous leadership outweighed their personal regard for genial old Joe Martin. The question then became, who should take Martin's place. This was a thorny issue, for the ranks of the insurgents were widely split. The young liberal Republicans favored a man like Gerald R. Ford Jr. of Michigan or the more experienced Richard M. Simpson of Pennsylvania. The arch-conservatives tended toward John W. Byrnes of Wisconsin (who later came out for Halleck and was made chairman of the Republican Policy Committee). But no bloc would pledge themselves to another's favorite, so they compromised on Charlie Halleck.

Halleck was the only man with a chance to oust Martin. He had the argument of experience (majority leader while Martin was Speaker in the 80th and 83rd Congresses). And his voting record oscillated enough to please both conservatives and liberals (isolationist until Pearl Harbor, strong backing for the war effort afterwards; firm opposition to Administration-backed social welfare measures until 1953, warm support of very similar measures afterwards).

But most of all, Halleck is a fighter--a shrewd parliamentary tactician with little love of compromise. In his efforts to bring party members into line, he is more apt to use cold steamroller techniques than the genial coddling with which Martin was successful. This has already earned him the dislike of some Republicans, it is reported; and now that he is top man this feeling may become more widespread.

Some Martin supporters also advance the argument that in a year when House Republicans are in so great a minority, the only tactics that will earn the Party any sort of national respect are those of compromise, which Martin had so perfected. As Martin said Tuesday, "You don't give the other fellow a crack on the jaw... when he has more votes." Halleck was elected as the jaw-cracking type.

Another factor that may hamper Halleck's effectiveness is his innate conservatism, which will probably get more chance for expression now that the White House is plugging the economy line. Young G.O.P. liberals may find themselves more and more at odds with the leadership, especially when represented by Halleck's aggressive personality.

These and other Republicans may soon regret the haste with which they deposed Joe Martin. He might well have been willing to work closely with a younger man for a year and then step down in his favor, had not such a course seemed to involve an ignominious surrender to Halleck, who has been bucking uppishly for Martin's job for the last two terms. This would have avoided Tuesday's outbreak of intra-party bitterness, which will be remembered if only by the pathos of Joe Martin's defeated smile.

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