Those Republicans who thought their party hit bottom on Election Day were wrong. Mitt Romney’s defeat was a blow, but the pitiful collapse of House Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B legislation on the budget showed that heading into his second term, President Obama’s opposition is so divided as to be rendered useless.
The importance of Boehner’s failure to keep his caucus relatively united, so as to strengthen his hand in negotiations to avoid having the nation go over the fiscal cliff, is not a minor story or one that will be soon forgotten in the 24/7 news cycle world. It is a signal to the Democrats that though they do not control the lower house of Congress—a not inconsiderable obstacle to President Obama’s hopes of implementing the liberal wish list of programs and legislation in his second term—neither do Boehner and the GOP leadership. That will not just make it easier for Obama to face down the Republicans in any confrontation. It leaves the Republicans prey to an ongoing dispiriting civil war between establishment types and Tea Partiers that will enhance the chances that the president will get more of what he wants in the next two years.
To state this fact is not to deliver a judgment that the objections to Plan B were either unprincipled or unsound economics. Boehner’s GOP critics are right when they continue to argue that Washington has a problem with spending, not taxes. Raising anyone’s taxes, even the millionaires that Boehner’s proposal targeted, won’t cure the deficit. Nor are they wrong to worry that the White House intends to renege on any promises to carry out the entitlement reform that is necessary to dealing with the problem at the heart of the country’s fiscal illness.
But in refusing even to give their leader their votes on behalf of what was nothing more than a negotiating ploy, they have created a situation where they have no effective leadership. Boehner must now crawl back to the negotiating table with Obama and accept an even less palatable compromise that will not have the support of most Republicans, or actually let the deadline expire. The latter would mean allowing taxes to rise on everyone in the country as well as the implementation of the sequestration process that will mean ruinous cuts in defense.
All this means that the Republicans will be heading into the New Year in an even weaker condition than they looked to be after losing the presidency, the Senate and having their House majority trimmed on Election Day. This sets them up for a lousy 2013 in which the president will have the whip hand over them throughout the coming months as he seeks to pass the next round of liberal legislation.
But as bad as this moment is for conservatives, it should be remembered that nothing in politics, even stinging election defeats and humiliating legislative debacles like the one they experienced last night, lasts forever. It is no accident that those Republicans expected to vie for the 2016 presidential nomination have been relatively quiet during the last weeks. Though Mitt Romney and now John Boehner have failed, there will be plenty of opportunities for people like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and others to shine during the next two years. There will also be many opportunities for the president to demonstrate the same poor judgment on both domestic and foreign issues that made his first term a lackluster affair. The GOP may have just hit bottom, but that also