Commentary Magazine


Topic: government shutdown

The Government Shutdown A Year Later

The Wall Street Journal published a story that dealt with the shutdown of the federal government, which occurred nearly a year ago. According to the Journal:

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The Wall Street Journal published a story that dealt with the shutdown of the federal government, which occurred nearly a year ago. According to the Journal:

The Republican Party’s reputation declined sharply after the 2013 government shutdown. But in politics, as in many other walks of life, memories are short.

Over the summer, Democrats tried to rekindle fears that Republicans would again fail to fund the government, but Congress left Washington earlier this month without a major hiccup. With its one-year anniversary right around the corner, the shutdown doesn’t register as a top advertising theme in House and Senate races this year… The GOP is still disliked more than liked, polls show, but that is true of the Democrats, too, and for the Republicans the gap has narrowed by 20 percentage points since the shutdown.

“The Republican Party image may not be stellar, but, boy, it is a lot better than it’s been,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducts the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll with Democrat Fred Yang.

 The story goes on to report the following:

The latest Journal poll this month found negative views of the GOP outweighing positive views among registered voters by 10 percentage points—41% to 31%. That is a major improvement from last October, in the wake of the shutdown, when negative views outweighed positive views by 31 points, or 53% to 22%. The uptick also means the parties are now viewed roughly equally. Negative views of the Democratic Party outweighed positive ones by 6 points. Views of the GOP have become more positive among several sectors of the population, including Latinos, independents and self-identified Republicans.

I highlight this story for several reasons, beginning with the fact that some people who advocated the approach that led to the shutdown–most especially Senator Ted Cruz–are still defending their role in that disaster. Worse, at the time Cruz and other key figures were charging that conservatives who didn’t support their gambit were supporters of Obamacare. They were part of the “surrender caucus.”

This assertion was always untrue, and Cruz & Company had to know it was untrue. Yet they continued to make the assertion, presumably in order to appeal to Tea Party members by portraying themselves as intrepid and anti-establishment, as the William Wallaces of modern-day politics.

This whole thing was ludicrous from beginning to end; many of us predicted in advance how badly it would turn out. It has taken the GOP the better part of a year to undo the damage caused by the shutdown.

This is yet another reminder that conservatives should invest their hopes in politicians who are both principled and prudent. Who are more serious about governing than in mindless symbolism. And who have enough self-control to keep their personal ambitions from injuring their party and conservatism.

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Ted Cruz, RINO?

According to The Hill newspaper:

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According to The Hill newspaper:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) late Saturday shrugged off the idea that Republicans would shut down the federal government if President Obama took executive action on immigration reform.

“There is one person and one person only talking about shutting down the government, and that is the White House,” he told The Washington Post after offering a blistering critique of the administration’s policies at the Americans For Prosperity conference in Dallas.

I for one am glad that Senator Cruz seems to have learned from his disastrous mistake last October, when he was the leading voice (but hardly the only voice) for shutting down the federal government if the president didn’t defund the Affordable Care Act. Leading up to the shutdown many of us said that to follow the Cruz strategy would be a terrible mistake. It was. Nothing good was achieved, while the GOP badly hurt itself in the process. Yet Cruz, to this very day, continues to defend what he did. He was a profile in courage, don’t you know; a man of rare, unbending principles.

But if using the government shutdown as a means to stop Mr. Obama was such a wonderful strategy, then why not pursue it again–especially if President Obama unilaterally acts to legalize those who live in America but who came here illegally? Indeed, the Senator Cruz from October 2013 would excoriate the Senator Cruz of August 2014, just as last fall he excoriated Republicans who warned against his gambit. He would be saying the Ted Cruz of today is unprincipled, craven, weak, afraid of his own shadow, and a man who doesn’t have a clue as to the damage the president is doing to the nation. “Now is the time to fight, not to flee,” Ted Cruz circa 2013 would tell Ted Cruz circa 2014, “a time to take a stand, not retreat.”

Let me reiterate: I’m pleased Senator Cruz has implicitly rebuked the approach he took last fall. But given how critical he was of his colleagues, who turned out to be so much wiser than he, it might be a nice touch for the Texas senator to apologize to those he attacked, and even to admit he was wrong. Because he was. And because even he sees that now.

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Paul Ryan’s Way Forward

In his new book, The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea Representative Paul Ryan offers some candid assessments of his party and himself.

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In his new book, The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea Representative Paul Ryan offers some candid assessments of his party and himself.

On the former, he writes about the lead up to the government shutdown in October 2013, which he believed would be a “calamity for our party.” Mr. Ryan explains why the strategy couldn’t work, including the fact that because the Affordable Care Act is an entitlement, shutting down the government wouldn’t defund or eliminate it.

“The strategy our colleagues had been promoting was flawed from beginning to end,” he writes. “It was a suicide mission. But a lot of members were more afraid of what would happen if they didn’t jump off the cliff… We couldn’t afford to take a hit like that again [referring to the 1995 government shutdown] – not for a strategy that had no hope of advancing our core principles.”

Chairman Ryan was right, but a group of House Republicans – urged on by Senator Ted Cruz in particular – held out for a shutdown. It came. No core principles were advanced. And the reputation of the GOP dropped to new lows.

As for Ryan himself, he admits that his past use of the phrase “makers and takers” – meant to describe in shorthand people who are and aren’t receiving government benefits – was a mistake.

What was a taker? My mom, who is on Medicare? Me at eighteen years old, using the Social Security survivor’s benefits we got after my father’s death to go to college? My buddy John Ramsdell, who had been unemployed and used job-training benefits to get back on his feet?

We’re just lumping people in this category without any regard for their personal stories, I thought. It sounds like we’re saying that people who are struggling are deadbeats, as if they haven’t made it already or aren’t trying hard enough. emphasis in the original]

A political memoir and policy book that’s both candid and self-reflective, and at times even self-critical: That alone makes it rare and worth reading. Yet the book is significant for other reasons, including this one: Ryan, a political and intellectual leader of the GOP, uses The Way Forward to help Republicans and conservatives recast their approach, at least just a bit.

Chairman Ryan’s purpose in writing the book, at least as I understand it, is to describe what government can do to advance a conservative vision of the good society. This involves more than simply cutting government — though Ryan, to his credit, has offered the most comprehensive and realistic plan of any Republican to re-limit government.

He wants to reform government in fundamental, structural ways, to move us away from centralized bureaucratic planning and control toward more competition and choice, greater efficiency and innovation. This needs to be done not for ideological reasons but for eminently practical ones: to improve the lives and increase the opportunities for Americans in every social and economic stratum.

Mr. Ryan, a man of impeccable conservative credentials, wants Republicans to focus not just on the size of government but its purposes. He wants the GOP to act in ways that refute rather than reinforce certain stereotypes. He understands, too, that the Republican Party has to do more than amp up the rhetoric in ways that bring true believers to their feet. Energizing base voters is a pre-condition for a party’s political success, but Republicans also need to persuade millions of people who are not now voting for them at the presidential level to do just that. “Preaching to the choir isn’t working,” is how he puts it, “and by the way, the choir is shrinking.”

How to expand the choir and add new voices to it; that is in part what The Way Forward attempts to do, and does quite well.

The Republican Party needs to be the party of the 21st century — the party of reform and modernization; of upward mobility and educational excellence; that rewards work and opposes corporate welfare; that cares for the weak and vulnerable while speaking for middle class concerns and to middle class aspirations. It needs to have a real agenda when it comes to health care, higher education, legal and illegal immigration and the long-term unemployed.

That’s one part of the equation; but there’s another part, too.

Political parties are also defined by tone and countenance, spirit and bearing, and by whether its most public figures come across as winsome or joyless, authentic or contrived, at ease with the world or raging against it. Right now the way many people see political parties in general, but the GOP in particular, as antipathetic, rigid, and out of touch.

Paul Ryan’s book, and Paul Ryan himself, are antidotes to those impressions. His fellow Republicans would be wise to once again follow his lead.

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Will the GOP Repeat Their Shutdown Error?

In a year in which Republicans were already favored to take control of the Senate, President Obama’s plans to announce executive orders to effectively legalize millions of illegal immigrants may be the last straw for a number of embattled red state Democratic incumbents and challengers. But there is an alternate theory to explain the president’s puzzling decision to trample on the Constitution just weeks before the midterms. It could be that the White House believes this is just the thing to tempt conservatives to overplay their hand and raise the specter of another government shutdown or impeachment.

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In a year in which Republicans were already favored to take control of the Senate, President Obama’s plans to announce executive orders to effectively legalize millions of illegal immigrants may be the last straw for a number of embattled red state Democratic incumbents and challengers. But there is an alternate theory to explain the president’s puzzling decision to trample on the Constitution just weeks before the midterms. It could be that the White House believes this is just the thing to tempt conservatives to overplay their hand and raise the specter of another government shutdown or impeachment.

Let’s specify that Republican anger about what looks to be an end run around the Constitution would be completely justified. The idea that a president can arrogate to himself the power to annul some laws by ordering that they not be enforced or to effectively promulgate new laws without benefit of congressional action is outrageous. That’s exactly what he would be doing if, as virtually everyone in Washington anticipates he will, the president signs executive orders in September that would halt deportations for illegals and grant green cards for all those who had children after entering the country without permission.

As I wrote earlier, these moves seem to indicate that President Obama is writing off Democratic chances of holding onto the Senate since they would hurt embattled red state Democrats. But it is entirely possible that the president is hoping for an entirely different scenario to play out. If, rather than just using the president’s unconstitutional actions to bury Democrats this fall, Republicans choose to try and use a vote on the budget to defund the president’s efforts, it will almost certainly set in motion a series of events that would lead to a government shutdown in the middle of the fall campaign. Though conservatives would be right to blame Obama and the Democrats for sending the government to the brink, they should know by now that they will be the losers in any such standoff.

Senator Marco Rubio, an ardent proponent of immigration reform, has warned the White House that he and other Republicans will act to remove funding for any presidential actions that would attempt to bypass Congress. Some will call him a flip-flopper because of his own role in pushing for the bipartisan compromise immigration bill that passed the Senate before dying in the House. But Rubio is not merely responding to pushback against his vote from conservatives. He’s also realized that the fiasco at the border this year in which a wave of illegal immigrants has overwhelmed federal resources is largely the fault of statements from the president and congressional moves that gave many would-be illegal immigrants the impression that they would be allowed to stay if they made it across the border. This led him to the correct conclusion that those who believed border enforcement must precede any move toward dealing with the illegals already here were right.

The president is not only determined to ignore the will of Congress, he also has learned that particular lesson. But if Rubio and his colleagues initiate a game of chicken over the budget on this issue it will show that they, too, have already forgotten recent political history. The 2013 government shutdown was also justified in the sense that it was generated by an attempt on the part of Republicans to stop the funding of ObamaCare because of a refusal by the president to compromise on its implementation. Given the disastrous nature of that rollout the president would have done well to heed their advice, but the shutdown was an unmitigated disaster for Republicans that Democrats are eager to repeat. Though it was largely unfair, thanks to clever maneuvers by the president and the assistance of the liberal media, the public blamed the GOP for the shutdown. Inevitably, the Republicans had to give in without getting much in the way of concessions from the president or stopping ObamaCare. Anyone who thinks there will be a different outcome if this is tried over immigration wasn’t paying attention. Any cutoff in government funding now, even on constitutional grounds, will give the Democrats the opportunity to brand their opponents as destructive obstructionists and fanatics rather than principled supporters of the Constitution.

Throw in threats about impeachment proceedings that are already being mooted by Tea Party firebrands like Rep. Steve King of Iowa and you’ve got a formula for a Democratic revival that could enable some of their weaker incumbents to survive.

The president’s intention to throw the Constitution under the bus when it comes to immigration and other issues isn’t in doubt. But what is yet to be determined is on which ground will the battle over this issue be fought. If Republicans take the president’s bait and put a shutdown in motion, the debate will shift from the president’s illegal behavior to one about Republican extremism. If, however, they refrain from such destructive tactics, there is every chance they can return to Washington next January with a majority that will be far better able to stop the president’s actions than anything they can do now.

As with the ObamaCare shutdown, Republican passion is causing them lose sight of the fact that the country will be with them against unconstitutional behavior. Listening to the counsels of despair—which imagined that the shutdown was the last chance to stop ObamaCare—was the mistake in 2013. If they repeat that error this fall it will be a dream come true for the Democrats.

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New Dem Strategy: Say the Word “Impeachment” Over and Over

A recurring theme of the Obama administration and the upcoming election to succeed him is the continuing relevance of Bill Clinton and his presidency. Obama and the GOP fought over welfare reform, which Clinton signed. The president (and now Hillary Clinton) disavowed the religious freedom protections signed into law enthusiastically by Bill Clinton. On free trade, taxes, and gay marriage the Clinton presidency has been in the room.

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A recurring theme of the Obama administration and the upcoming election to succeed him is the continuing relevance of Bill Clinton and his presidency. Obama and the GOP fought over welfare reform, which Clinton signed. The president (and now Hillary Clinton) disavowed the religious freedom protections signed into law enthusiastically by Bill Clinton. On free trade, taxes, and gay marriage the Clinton presidency has been in the room.

The comparisons became particularly specific when the two sides threatened, and then went through with, a government shutdown. The parallel was invoked: Clinton is perceived to have won the battle for public opinion over the 1995 shutdown, when the president sparred with Newt Gingrich and a reenergized conservative faction in the House. Now a similar comparison is cropping up again: impeachment.

Although Republican congressional leaders are not remotely taking the idea of impeachment seriously, this issue has the very same plot twist as the debate over the government shutdown. Because history declared Clinton the victor in 1995, top Democrats in the Obama era actually wanted the shutdown, convinced it would play to their political advantage. Republican leaders were unenthusiastic about shutting down the government precisely because they agreed. (There was even a “hot stove” theory as to why Speaker Boehner eventually let it proceed: the backlash would teach the conservative supporters of the shutdown–some of whom had presidential aspirations–a lesson they’d remember.)

That’s the backdrop to Rich Lowry’s headline-question at NRO today: “Does Obama WANT to Get Impeached?” The answer, I think, was revealed during a bizarre back-and-forth at White House press secretary Josh Earnest’s briefing on Friday. Earnest was sent to the podium to convey the Looney Tunes notion that the GOP leadership was considering impeachment. Because this is flatly and demonstrably false, Earnest was challenged on his assertion.

“I think that there are senior members of the Republican political party or certainly prominent voices in the Republican Party who are calling for exactly that,” Earnest said. The reporters were slightly confused by an obviously untrue charge coming from the president’s chief spokesman. There ensued an argument that has to be seen to be believed. Via the White House transcript:

Q    And who is that?  Sarah Palin is one.

MR. EARNEST:  She mentioned it.  Somebody mentioned earlier that –

Q    She would be a prominent voice in the Republican political –

Q    Anybody in the Republican leadership seriously talking about that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think Sarah Palin considers herself to be a leader –

Q    Hang on, Jon, it’s my question.

Q    Sorry.  (Laughter.)

Q    There’s been a lot of fundraising emails from the Democratic Party with the word “impeachment” in it.  This sounds like a fundraising ploy, a political ploy, not a real thing.  You don’t really think the President is going to be impeached, do you?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jim, I think that there are some Republicans, including some Republicans who are running for office, hoping they can get into office so that they can impeach the President.  That is apparently a view that they hold, because it’s one that they have repeatedly expressed publicly.

I think what’s really important –

Q    Is the White House Counsel’s Office looking at this?  Are you studying the possibility of being impeached?

MR. EARNEST:  Here’s the thing that I think is important about this.  And again, we’re coming up on a pivotal week.  Next week will be the last week that Congress is in session before Labor Day.  There are at least two items of business that members of Congress themselves have identified as important priorities.

The mention of the Democratic Party fundraising emails about impeachment hits the nail on the head. As the world burns, and as his secretary of state piles on the firewood, the president spends his time at fundraisers. Each issue can be measured not according to bedrock principles but by its monetary value with regard to raising campaign funds.

That’s how we get the White House’s “war on women” and the left acting as though the Religious Freedom Restoration Act permits–nay, requires, if the GOP has its way–the Talibanization of American life. The president’s grand vision for reelection boiled down to Big Bird and birth control. Big Bird seems to be out of the woods, so now it’s almost exclusively birth control, though this requires the left to simply make stuff up, since the truth is not offensive enough to rile the Democratic base.

And that’s how we get a fundraising scheme designed by Democrats pushing the idea of impeachment with Republicans pushing back against the idea. It would otherwise seem strange, no doubt, to see the president and his spokesmen gleefully push the idea of impeachment with Republicans trying to talk Democrats down from that ledge. Which is where we are now in this farcical saga of presidential self-pity.

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Elizabeth Warren Stops Pretending

Yesterday on Twitter, the Senate Democrats sent out a message that seemed to attribute the following paraphrased declaration to Elizabeth Warren: “Remember the government shutdown? That was started by a GOP effort to let employers deny workers access to birth control.” Because it was unclear, and because this statement is so utterly and obviously false, Twitter users were left wondering if Warren could really have said something so outrageously fictitious. It turned out that, yes, Warren made this comment, having finally and fully descended into self-parody.

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Yesterday on Twitter, the Senate Democrats sent out a message that seemed to attribute the following paraphrased declaration to Elizabeth Warren: “Remember the government shutdown? That was started by a GOP effort to let employers deny workers access to birth control.” Because it was unclear, and because this statement is so utterly and obviously false, Twitter users were left wondering if Warren could really have said something so outrageously fictitious. It turned out that, yes, Warren made this comment, having finally and fully descended into self-parody.

The Washington Examiner’s Ashe Schow posted the video and transcript of Warren’s remarks in context. Here is what the senator said:

In 2012, the Republicans tried to pass the Blunt amendment, a proposal that would have allowed employers and insurance companies to deny women access to health care services based on any vague moral objections.

Democrats said ‘no.’ The president said ‘no.’ The American people said ‘no’ to this offensive idea.

But instead of listening to the American people, Republicans in Washington doubled down.

Remember last year’s government shutdown that nearly tanked our economy? That fight started with a GOP effort to hold the whole operation of the federal government hostage in order to try to force Democrats and the president to let employers deny workers access to birth control.

Well, we rejected the hostage-taking. Democrats said ‘no.’ The president said ‘no.’ The American people said ‘no’ to this offensive idea.

Schow explains, in case any readers were foolish enough to believe Warren, how none of Warren’s claim is true. The government shutdown, of course, was not about birth control but about a budget impasse and features native to ObamaCare (which the contraception mandate was not), and their selective enforcement.

Additionally, no one, under any reading of this controversy, was trying to “deny women access” to anything. The only question was whether some companies with religious objections to possible abortifacients would be forced to pay for services that violate their beliefs while still paying for 80 percent of birth control products. But again, that wasn’t the issue over which the government was shut down anyway.

As I have noted, joining the Senate seems to have erased any attempt at seriousness left over from Warren’s previous career as a consumer advocate. Conservatives have been disappointed because the intellectual bankruptcy of modern liberalism has left them with few liberals capable of conducting an intelligent debate on policy. Warren seemed to present a real challenge to conservatives, but she dropped her academic pretensions before she even joined the Senate, having run her campaign not on policy but on fabricated “war on women” victimhood and rants against “Big Oil.”

Warren has revealed herself to be a conventional leftist, and that’s why her made-up storylines about birth control actually matter. As Mary Katherine Ham notes over at Hot Air:

Back in 2013, at the time of the shutdown, she was saying the same thing because the entire strategy for this great, fresh intellectual hope of the Democratic Party is to yell about how no one can achieve anything outside the collective, and unless the collective provides every single necessity for basic living, free of cost, we are cast into the darkest of ages. It makes no difference to her that birth control was readily available to everyone, subsidized and provided free by the government, and covered by almost all employer-based insurance plans before a bureaucrat at Health and Human Services decided to force every employer in America to provide it without a copay, regardless of their religious beliefs. It was even available to Hobby Lobby employees before the Hobby Lobby case was decided and will remain available to them after that decision.

Indeed, the left was overjoyed at the prospect of Warren joining the Senate because it would put a faux-intellectual sheen on their unflinching statist impulses. Warren wasted no time in delivering on that promise, but she has gradually lost the ability to act as though there’s more to her liberalism than increasing and overusing government authority. After a center-left think tank criticized Warren’s Occupy Wall Street populism, she used her perch on the Senate Banking Committee to demand that think tanks disclose their Wall Street donors to discredit any pro-business scholarship and so she would know precisely who in the private sector dared criticize her.

Warren is fighting a battle against reality and good governance in the name of expanded and intrusive government power. She has also, apparently, given up pretending otherwise.

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Palin, Impeachment, and Unserious Politics

Is impeachment the only remedy for President Obama’s unconstitutional power grabs? Congress doesn’t seem likely to be able to restrain his attempt to rule by executive order by either legislation or lawsuits. But those, like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who advocate this course of action are saying more about themselves than they are about Obama’s misbehavior.

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Is impeachment the only remedy for President Obama’s unconstitutional power grabs? Congress doesn’t seem likely to be able to restrain his attempt to rule by executive order by either legislation or lawsuits. But those, like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who advocate this course of action are saying more about themselves than they are about Obama’s misbehavior.

Palin makes the argument for impeachment in a Breitbart.com article in which she rightly set forth the president’s failures to enforce the laws he doesn’t like (such as those that govern U.S. immigration policy) and his predilection for making up new laws that allow him do as he pleases as he goes along. This lawlessness is deplorable, but I would assert that it also reflects a general distaste for a system of checks and balances and limited powers embedded in the Constitution that seems to inform all liberal thought these days. The president’s defeats at the Supreme Court on recess appointments (where even his appointees ruled against him) and religious freedom all reflect liberal impatience with the Constitution when it interferes with Obama’s policy ambitions.

But as frustrating as Obama’s defiant “so sue me” attitude may be, any talk of impeachment is an illustration of how some on the right have become divorced from political reality. By lending what’s left of her star power to an effort that is not only an obvious non-starter but also a proposition that is bound to hurt Republicans more than it could possibly help them, Palin is demonstrating how profoundly unserious her brand of politics has become.

Advocates of impeachment can say, as they do in every administration (leftists sang the same tune about George W. Bush), that impeachment is the recourse the founders gave Congress to restrain a president that had violated the law. But in the 225 years since the first president took the oath of office, it is a measure that has always rightly been considered not merely a last resort but a tactic that is associated with extremists who have abandoned the political process. Obama is, after all, not the first president to seek to expand the power of the executive at the expense of the Congress or even the Constitution. Even when a president has been caught violating the law in one manner or the other, the consensus has always been that the “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard set forth in the Constitution cannot be used to settle what are essentially political disputes about policy and turf.

Nor, as Republicans learned in 1998 when they impeached Bill Clinton for committing perjury during the course of investigations of his pattern of sexual harassment of women, does the public care for attempts to undo by a hybrid legislative-judicial process the decision of the voters at the ballot box. Like efforts to demonstrate this president’s alleged ineligibility for his office, talk of impeachment is the last resort of people who can’t get their way by the normal political process.

To note this fact is not to defend Obama or to refute the arguments that Palin and others, such as myself, have made about the president’s lamentable distaste for the Constitution. But conservatives who embrace impeachment must come to terms with the fact that in doing so they are essentially branding themselves as having divorced themselves from the reality of government. Impeachment resolutions are not efforts to pressure the president to obey the law or to adopt more sensible policies. They are a declaration of war by a side that knows it is losing and can’t win by any other means. It is a sign of weakness and desperation.

In that sense, impeachment is very much of a piece with the conservative effort to force a government shutdown last year. Doing so did nothing to stop ObamaCare or to advance the critique of the Obama presidency. Indeed, it only served to distract Americans from the disastrous rollout of the misnamed Affordable Care Act and did more to undermine the Republican case against Obama and his law than anything their opponents ever said. Though the GOP had right on its side in that debate, their decision to essentially hold the government hostage to their demands played right into Democratic hands. It was only once they abandoned that foolish tactic that conservatives began to gain ground in the polls and give their party a chance to win the 2014 midterms.

The shutdown reflected a lack of faith in the political process on the part of conservatives who seemed to think themselves doomed to perpetual defeat. The same can be said of impeachment.

The point isn’t just that it is politically impossible, though it is that and will be even if the Republicans take back the Senate next year since most in the GOP caucuses understand an impeachment vote would help the Democrats more than the shutdown. It’s Palin’s threat to urge conservatives to “vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment” that is the real problem.

Palin remains a genuine political talent and can, when she sticks to topics that she knows something about, be an effective advocate. But her brittle and often graceless approach to political discourse has cost her mainstream appeal and made her a polarizing figure with little hope of appealing to anyone outside her existing circle of admirers. Palin still has a following and though she knows it isn’t anywhere near big enough to justify her risking her reputation by running for national office, it is sufficient to have a potent influence in some GOP primaries. If she attempts to make support for impeachment a litmus test for Republican candidates she will not only be hurting her party but marginalizing herself. Her decision to go down this path is just one more sign that she has abandoned serious politics in favor of something that can only further diminish what’s left of her celebrity quotient.

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Battleground Poll Points to GOP Victory

National polls can tell us a lot about the national mood, but if you want to get a grip on who will win the midterm elections, the only way to do it is to focus in on those who vote in contested House districts and states where Senate seats are up for grabs. That’s what Politico did with its latest poll published today and the results are likely to dampen some of the mild signs of optimism that Democrats have been exhibiting in recent weeks. According to the poll, likely voters say they favor Republicans over Democrats by a 41-34 percent margin. While each race will be won or lost by individual candidates rather than a generic party brand, this is another reminder that President Obama’s efforts to claim that he has conclusively won the debate on ObamaCare and other top issues will not help his party at the polls this November.

The results echo other polls of the entire country in which Americans overwhelmingly believe that the nation is headed in the wrong direction. With 60 percent of those in battleground areas believing that the debate on ObamaCare is not over and almost half calling for its outright repeal, the notion that a focus on health care will backfire on Republicans this year seems unfounded. Just as significantly, the list of top voter concerns should give cold comfort to Democratic strategists and liberal media outlets that have highlighted such issues as immigration or climate change. On a list of issues voters identified as their top priority, the economy ranks first with 26 percent while jobs and health care are the only others to register in double digits at 12 percent. Immigration and the environment get only three percent and two percent respectively. With the president’s job approval rating under water (59-40 percent negative) and voter enthusiasm also low in these areas, any hope of a surge in turnout that would benefit Democrats also seems unlikely.

But perhaps the biggest problem for Democrats is that, at least in those areas of the country where the minority of Americans will decide the 2014 elections, the liberal campaign to demonize congressional Republicans appears to have failed.

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National polls can tell us a lot about the national mood, but if you want to get a grip on who will win the midterm elections, the only way to do it is to focus in on those who vote in contested House districts and states where Senate seats are up for grabs. That’s what Politico did with its latest poll published today and the results are likely to dampen some of the mild signs of optimism that Democrats have been exhibiting in recent weeks. According to the poll, likely voters say they favor Republicans over Democrats by a 41-34 percent margin. While each race will be won or lost by individual candidates rather than a generic party brand, this is another reminder that President Obama’s efforts to claim that he has conclusively won the debate on ObamaCare and other top issues will not help his party at the polls this November.

The results echo other polls of the entire country in which Americans overwhelmingly believe that the nation is headed in the wrong direction. With 60 percent of those in battleground areas believing that the debate on ObamaCare is not over and almost half calling for its outright repeal, the notion that a focus on health care will backfire on Republicans this year seems unfounded. Just as significantly, the list of top voter concerns should give cold comfort to Democratic strategists and liberal media outlets that have highlighted such issues as immigration or climate change. On a list of issues voters identified as their top priority, the economy ranks first with 26 percent while jobs and health care are the only others to register in double digits at 12 percent. Immigration and the environment get only three percent and two percent respectively. With the president’s job approval rating under water (59-40 percent negative) and voter enthusiasm also low in these areas, any hope of a surge in turnout that would benefit Democrats also seems unlikely.

But perhaps the biggest problem for Democrats is that, at least in those areas of the country where the minority of Americans will decide the 2014 elections, the liberal campaign to demonize congressional Republicans appears to have failed.

One of the interesting sidelights of this poll can be gleaned from the low approval ratings both parties’ congressional caucuses received. In the poll, Republicans are slightly more unpopular with a 69-31 percent negative/positive rating to the Democrats 64-35 result. That’s a troubling gap, but nowhere the margin that Democrats had hoped for heading into 2014. Democrats have been working under the assumption that the stands that House Republicans have taken in the last year would sink them with the voters. Their refusal to enact immigration reform, climate change legislation, or to raise the minimum wage is assumed to be a liability. But even more than that, the president and his party thought last fall’s government shutdown would put the GOP under water for the foreseeable future. This result, while still showing the voters’ disapproval, indicates that the subsequent debate over ObamaCare has overshadowed if not completely erased any substantive advantage held by the Democrats.

It is possible to interpret the poll numbers as a sign that opinion is shifting on the health-care law with a slight majority favoring its retention, albeit with a significant number believing it should be altered. But the assumption that this shows that Americans are gradually accepting the law—and that it will cease to work for the GOP in 2016—doesn’t take into account the fact that much of the pain and dislocation that it will cause hasn’t yet been felt. With a lot of the unpopular mandates delayed until 2015, the potential for a negative impact on the economy as well as a surge of anger by those who have been inconvenienced by it is being underestimated. If ObamaCare can’t establish itself as a clear favorite of most Americans before this happens, it isn’t likely to happen after the mandates go into effect.

If the Politico poll shows, in the words of the site’s article about the survey, that ObamaCare is a “political anchor” for the Democrats in 2014, anyone who assumes that it will help them in 2016 is making a leap of faith that is unjustified by the data. 

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I Still Remember, Senator Cruz

Earlier this week Senator Ted Cruz took to doing what he enjoys most: Lecturing the GOP “establishment” from his moral Mt. Olympus. 

Speaking critically about the vote to raise the debt limit, Cruz–who insisted on a 60-vote threshold to end debate on the measure–said some lawmakers are “willing to mortgage our children’s future” because they “care so much about being praised by the Washington media” and don’t think voters are paying attention. “But sometimes, come November, the people remember,” the junior senator from Texas declared.

Actually, come mid-February, the people still remember. At least I do.

I remember that Senator Cruz championed legislative tactics that resulted in the shutdown of the federal government last October. He apparently wanted another high-stakes showdown–this time over raising the debt ceiling–that would produce essentially the same result.

I remember the move he helped engineer last fall was a disaster for the GOP and harmful to the conservative cause. I remember that nothing was gained substantively. I remember that the American people, by large margins, hated the shutdown–and that the American people, by large margins, blamed Republicans for it. I remember how, thanks in good part to the shutdown, the GOP received the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992. And I remember that Senator Cruz’s tactic deflected attention from the awful rollout of healthcare.gov for several weeks, until the shutdown ended.

That’s not all I remember.

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Earlier this week Senator Ted Cruz took to doing what he enjoys most: Lecturing the GOP “establishment” from his moral Mt. Olympus. 

Speaking critically about the vote to raise the debt limit, Cruz–who insisted on a 60-vote threshold to end debate on the measure–said some lawmakers are “willing to mortgage our children’s future” because they “care so much about being praised by the Washington media” and don’t think voters are paying attention. “But sometimes, come November, the people remember,” the junior senator from Texas declared.

Actually, come mid-February, the people still remember. At least I do.

I remember that Senator Cruz championed legislative tactics that resulted in the shutdown of the federal government last October. He apparently wanted another high-stakes showdown–this time over raising the debt ceiling–that would produce essentially the same result.

I remember the move he helped engineer last fall was a disaster for the GOP and harmful to the conservative cause. I remember that nothing was gained substantively. I remember that the American people, by large margins, hated the shutdown–and that the American people, by large margins, blamed Republicans for it. I remember how, thanks in good part to the shutdown, the GOP received the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992. And I remember that Senator Cruz’s tactic deflected attention from the awful rollout of healthcare.gov for several weeks, until the shutdown ended.

That’s not all I remember.

I remember that Senator Cruz, in the months leading up to the shutdown, accused those who disagreed with his approach of being part of the “surrender caucus.” I remember that he and those he was allied with said that if you didn’t agree with their approach you were a de facto supporter of ObamaCare. And I remember that Senator Cruz did what he did because he cared so much about being praised by populist parts of the Republican base.

I remember it was obvious the tactic Mr. Cruz was pushing was destined to fail, that he went ahead with it anyway, and that now he’d like reporters to talk about things other than his role in the government shutdown.

Senator Cruz, in other words, would like us to forget. But I still remember.

So do others.

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Republicans Dodge Debt Ceiling Disaster

When House Speaker John Boehner told a shocked Republican caucus this morning that he would allow a vote on raising the debt ceiling with no strings attached, it was seen in some quarters as a defeat for the GOP. And, in many ways, it was. A clean debt-ceiling resolution gives President Obama exactly what he wants and signals that there will be no attempt in 2014 by either political party to rein in the deluge of federal spending that feeds a national debt that keeps going up with no limit in sight. It also demonstrates that Boehner has failed yet again to get even a majority of his Republican members, let alone of the entire House, to vote for a bill that would link an increase in the debt ceiling with even modest measures aimed at trimming spending. Boehner was not even capable of passing a bill tied to a popular measure such as reversing cuts in veteran benefits. Most of the GOP caucus seems only interested in another apocalyptic fight to drastically cut spending and refuses to vote for any of Boehner’s compromises, leaving him no choice but to let the debt ceiling go through without strings and relying on the votes of Democrats.

Boehner expressed grave disappointment over his inability to speak for his caucus or to lead them to support a sensible approach to the issue as well as the futility of his efforts to chip away at the debt. Those are troubling developments, both for the speaker and the GOP. But rather than mourning Boehner’s decision, Republicans should be celebrating. A partisan confrontation over the debt ceiling—even one in which Republicans tie support for the increase to sensible spending cuts or a popular measure aimed at helping veterans—would have turned into a repeat of last fall’s political melodrama that ended so badly for the GOP.

The fact that a majority of the House GOP was too stubborn to back the speaker’s efforts to use the debt ceiling in an attempt to push for less spending may have granted the president what he wanted. But Boehner’s waving of the white flag on the debt ceiling also denies the Democrats the only issue that might have helped them win the 2014 midterm elections: a repeat of the GOP’s disastrous government shutdown. Today’s outcome allows Republicans to spend the upcoming months concentrating their fire on the president’s failed policies and the ObamaCare fiasco that threatens to drown the Democrats in a sea of lost insurance coverage, lost jobs, and a stalled economy rather than in defending another suicidal stand that would accomplish nothing but to strengthen their liberal opponents.

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When House Speaker John Boehner told a shocked Republican caucus this morning that he would allow a vote on raising the debt ceiling with no strings attached, it was seen in some quarters as a defeat for the GOP. And, in many ways, it was. A clean debt-ceiling resolution gives President Obama exactly what he wants and signals that there will be no attempt in 2014 by either political party to rein in the deluge of federal spending that feeds a national debt that keeps going up with no limit in sight. It also demonstrates that Boehner has failed yet again to get even a majority of his Republican members, let alone of the entire House, to vote for a bill that would link an increase in the debt ceiling with even modest measures aimed at trimming spending. Boehner was not even capable of passing a bill tied to a popular measure such as reversing cuts in veteran benefits. Most of the GOP caucus seems only interested in another apocalyptic fight to drastically cut spending and refuses to vote for any of Boehner’s compromises, leaving him no choice but to let the debt ceiling go through without strings and relying on the votes of Democrats.

Boehner expressed grave disappointment over his inability to speak for his caucus or to lead them to support a sensible approach to the issue as well as the futility of his efforts to chip away at the debt. Those are troubling developments, both for the speaker and the GOP. But rather than mourning Boehner’s decision, Republicans should be celebrating. A partisan confrontation over the debt ceiling—even one in which Republicans tie support for the increase to sensible spending cuts or a popular measure aimed at helping veterans—would have turned into a repeat of last fall’s political melodrama that ended so badly for the GOP.

The fact that a majority of the House GOP was too stubborn to back the speaker’s efforts to use the debt ceiling in an attempt to push for less spending may have granted the president what he wanted. But Boehner’s waving of the white flag on the debt ceiling also denies the Democrats the only issue that might have helped them win the 2014 midterm elections: a repeat of the GOP’s disastrous government shutdown. Today’s outcome allows Republicans to spend the upcoming months concentrating their fire on the president’s failed policies and the ObamaCare fiasco that threatens to drown the Democrats in a sea of lost insurance coverage, lost jobs, and a stalled economy rather than in defending another suicidal stand that would accomplish nothing but to strengthen their liberal opponents.

Much as he did before to the shutdown fight, Boehner tried to enlist conservative House members in an approach to the debt ceiling rooted in Tea Party’s concern over more spending, but would have sought to conduct the fight from the high ground of a popular position. But any reluctance to pay for the debt and to allow it to continue to increase—no matter how reasonable the strings that would have been attached to a GOP plan—was a political loser. Americans don’t like debt or big government spending in principle, but they also know that any attempt to bring a halt to the spending binge in a partisan manner could do real damage to the country’s credit rating and ultimately the economy as a whole.

Just as they did during the shutdown battle, Democrats deserve a lot of the blame for the failure to act on the debt. Their refusal to negotiate in good faith on either ObamaCare or spending caused the shutdown as much as the kamikaze instincts of Tea Party Republicans. But shutting down the government, even over ObamaCare funding, was deeply unpopular. The same applies to debt ceiling negotiations in which Democrats have also refused to deal fairly or address the country’s long-term problems.

It may be unfair that the GOP is blamed more than the Democrats for shutdowns or debt fights, but that is irrelevant to a political reality in which liberal domination of the mainstream media creates a distorted playing field. If Republicans want to win elections, they have to stay away from situations in which the media can brand them as irrational extremists, which is exactly what happened with the shutdown. As bad as things look for Boehner and his dysfunctional crew today, avoiding a debt-ceiling showdown denies the president and his party another chance to portray Republicans as irresponsible obstructionists who can’t be trusted with the serious task of governing.

Letting Democrats pass the debt increase is a bitter pill for Boehner and the GOP to swallow. But by doing it, they have also set the stage for a 2014 campaign that can be fought on their terms rather than those of the Democrats. That gives them a good chance not only to win back control of the Senate but to gain House seats and set themselves up for a 2015 session in which the party can not only begin to reverse the damage Obama has done but also set the stage for a return to the White House in 2016. All that was made possible by Boehner’s surrender. Given the stakes involved, that’s the sort of exchange that conservatives should like.

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Not So Fast, Senator Cruz

Senator Ted Cruz is tired of talking about the government shutdown.

“I understand that there are a lot of folks in the media that love to talk about the shutdown from four months ago,” he told reporters:

What we ought to be talking about is the fact that we have the lowest labor force participating in 30 years since 1978, that Obamacare has taken away more than 5 million people’s health insurance plans, that people are hurting, that income inequality has increased under the Obama agenda and that there is an abuse of power and lawlessness. So that’s what we ought to be talking about. Efforts that distract from that conversation, I think, are deliberate efforts of smoke and mirrors distracting from the questions coming from the American people.

Now why oh why would Senator Cruz want to stop talking about the government shutdown? After all, before it occurred he insisted it wouldn’t be such a bad thing–and since it’s occurred he’s claimed it was a wonderful success. “I think we accomplished a great deal,” according to Cruz.

Of course it did.

Don’t forget that during the lead-up to the shutdown Mr. Cruz insisted that those who didn’t agree with his tactics were part of the “surrender caucus” and he and his colleagues argued that if you didn’t follow their tactic, you were a de facto supporter of ObamaCare.

Of course it’s clear to every sentient human being that the Cruz & Co. gambit badly backfired. It achieved nothing useful. It deflected attention away from the awful rollout of the ObamaCare website. And it damaged the reputation of the GOP. The public, in overwhelming numbers, didn’t like the government shutdown–and by overwhelming numbers voters blamed Republicans for it. 

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Senator Ted Cruz is tired of talking about the government shutdown.

“I understand that there are a lot of folks in the media that love to talk about the shutdown from four months ago,” he told reporters:

What we ought to be talking about is the fact that we have the lowest labor force participating in 30 years since 1978, that Obamacare has taken away more than 5 million people’s health insurance plans, that people are hurting, that income inequality has increased under the Obama agenda and that there is an abuse of power and lawlessness. So that’s what we ought to be talking about. Efforts that distract from that conversation, I think, are deliberate efforts of smoke and mirrors distracting from the questions coming from the American people.

Now why oh why would Senator Cruz want to stop talking about the government shutdown? After all, before it occurred he insisted it wouldn’t be such a bad thing–and since it’s occurred he’s claimed it was a wonderful success. “I think we accomplished a great deal,” according to Cruz.

Of course it did.

Don’t forget that during the lead-up to the shutdown Mr. Cruz insisted that those who didn’t agree with his tactics were part of the “surrender caucus” and he and his colleagues argued that if you didn’t follow their tactic, you were a de facto supporter of ObamaCare.

Of course it’s clear to every sentient human being that the Cruz & Co. gambit badly backfired. It achieved nothing useful. It deflected attention away from the awful rollout of the ObamaCare website. And it damaged the reputation of the GOP. The public, in overwhelming numbers, didn’t like the government shutdown–and by overwhelming numbers voters blamed Republicans for it. 

So here’s my recommendation: Unless and until Senator Cruz admits the errors of his ways–unless he is willing to concede how flawed his judgment was and explains to us what he’s learned since then–the press should keep asking the junior senator from Texas about the shutdown. Again and again and again.

If Ted Cruz thinks it was such a terrific idea, let him claim ownership of it at every conceivable opportunity.

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Has John Boehner Learned His Lesson?

It was a short sound bite but it was replayed endlessly yesterday, angering some conservatives and leaving liberals chortling. When House Speaker John Boehner was asked during a press conference with other Republican leaders about criticisms from conservative activist groups of the budget deal struck by Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, he exploded:

REPORTER: Mr. Speaking, most major conservative groups have put out statements blasting this deal. Are you –

BOEHNER: You mean the groups that came out and opposed it before they ever saw it?

REPORTER: Are you worried –

BOEHNER: They are using our members and they are using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous. Listen, if you’re for more deficit reduction, you’re for this agreement.

This is not the first time Boehner has responded to criticism with anger and frustration. But it was a dramatic change of tone on the part of the convivial and often-teary-eyed and sentimental House speaker when it came to the conservative groups and their Tea Party supporters within his caucus. After all, it was only three months ago that Boehner was dragged reluctantly into a damaging government shutdown by the same organizations and members who were carping about the Ryan deal yesterday. Though no one should expect Boehner to be a changed man from the indecisive speaker of the shutdown crisis, he may have learned at least a couple of important lessons from that difficult experience. The days of the Tea Party tale wagging the House Republican big dog appear to be over.

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It was a short sound bite but it was replayed endlessly yesterday, angering some conservatives and leaving liberals chortling. When House Speaker John Boehner was asked during a press conference with other Republican leaders about criticisms from conservative activist groups of the budget deal struck by Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, he exploded:

REPORTER: Mr. Speaking, most major conservative groups have put out statements blasting this deal. Are you –

BOEHNER: You mean the groups that came out and opposed it before they ever saw it?

REPORTER: Are you worried –

BOEHNER: They are using our members and they are using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous. Listen, if you’re for more deficit reduction, you’re for this agreement.

This is not the first time Boehner has responded to criticism with anger and frustration. But it was a dramatic change of tone on the part of the convivial and often-teary-eyed and sentimental House speaker when it came to the conservative groups and their Tea Party supporters within his caucus. After all, it was only three months ago that Boehner was dragged reluctantly into a damaging government shutdown by the same organizations and members who were carping about the Ryan deal yesterday. Though no one should expect Boehner to be a changed man from the indecisive speaker of the shutdown crisis, he may have learned at least a couple of important lessons from that difficult experience. The days of the Tea Party tale wagging the House Republican big dog appear to be over.

The incident and the debate about the budget deal are bringing out into the open a conservative civil war that had previously been conducted behind closed doors, at least as far as the House leadership was concerned. Prior to the shutdown there was little doubt that Boehner wasn’t happy about the way some House conservatives and, even more importantly, advocacy groups like Heritage Action and FreedomWorks were helping to limit his options in negotiations with the Democrats. Though he made it clear enough that he knew the decision to try and force the defunding of ObamaCare was doomed to failure and that it would hurt his party, Boehner wound up bowing to the demands of Heritage, Ted Cruz, and the rest of the suicide caucus in the House.

The thinking then was that Boehner worried that if he thwarted those who believed such radical tactics were the only possible response to the health-care law’s implementation, the House Republican membership would be irretrievably split and his speakership might be threatened. What followed was a disaster that not only materially damaged the Republican Party but, just as importantly, served to obscure the ObamaCare rollout fiasco for three weeks as the mainstream media focused instead on those who had warned him against letting himself be buffaloed into a futile shutdown. After 17 days of a shutdown, Republicans were forced to give in having accomplished nothing other than to make his party and congressional Republicans look just like the extremist caricature Democrats had tried to paint them as being.

However, the conclusion of this drama also exploded the myth that Heritage and company really had the power to thwart any effort to pull back from the brink. When Boehner finally concluded a deal that was little more than a face-saving surrender to end the shutdown, the activists screamed bloody murder and warned they would back primary challenges against any Republican who went along. But the tide had shifted against them and few heeded their threats. By the time the dust settled, even some on the right like Senator Rand Paul were admitting the whole thing had been a mistake.

The speaker emerged from this trial chastened by the experience but perhaps also realizing that the bark of the Tea Party caucus was worse than its bite. Many Republicans will oppose the Ryan deal that more or less formalizes a truce with the Democrats on budget issues for the next year and Heritage and others will, as they did with the shutdown, try and make it a litmus test of conservative bona fides. But Boehner and even a conservative deep thinker like Ryan have rightly come to the conclusion that the agreement with Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray is not only as much as they can reasonably hope to get. Even more to the point, they understand that paralyzing the government and Congress with manufactured crises, in order to push for more deficit reduction and the entitlement reform the nation needs but won’t get so long as control of Congress is split between the two parties, is a critical mistake. The nation as a whole and even most rank-and-file Republicans have had enough of the shutdown mentality. Three months ago, it may have seemed as if Boehner had no choice but to accede to the demands of the Tea Partiers. The shutdown may have convinced him that he doesn’t have to do that anymore.

Having methodically worked his way to the leadership over the course of a long career in the House, Boehner is no pushover. But during his time as speaker he hasn’t exactly come across as the sort of politician whom challengers cross at their peril. But the events of the last few months may mean that he will never again be bullied into taking a course of action that he knows is mistaken. This week he has called the Tea Party’s bluff in exactly the manner that many in his party wish he had done back in September. If he sticks to this resolve, both the Congress and the Republican Party will be better off for it.

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Impeachment Talk Is Shutdown Rerun

Last week the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss the way President Obama has overstepped his authority in enforcing—and not enforcing—the law with respect to ObamaCare and other topics. Though, as National Review noted in a report on the event, the members initially shied away from the “I” word, some eventually warmed to the notion that impeachment was an appropriate response to his decisions. That willingness to tiptoe up to a discussion about impeachment was celebrated by liberals like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank who saw the hearing as a partisan waste of time as well as an indication that much of the House GOP caucus is “crazy.” But it was defended by NR’s Andrew McCarthy, who not only thinks it’s an important discussion but sees impeachment as “the only remedy” for Obama’s “systematic presidential lawlessness.”

Interestingly, Milbank agrees with McCarthy about Obama’s overreach, writing that, “this president has stretched the bounds of executive authority almost as much as his predecessor, whose abuses bothered Republicans much less (and Democrats much more).” But leaving aside the question of hypocrisy, McCarthy believes the president’s violations actually rise to the level of the constitutional bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors” for impeachment and thinks the only obstacle to putting the president on trial is political will. While he agrees that, as was the case in 1998 when Republicans did impeach Bill Clinton, there is no national political will in the nation to depose Barack Obama, he seems to think the GOP should be working to change public opinion on this point.

But though I agree with McCarthy that Obama’s presidency is a failure at home and abroad and that he has played fast and loose with the law in a manner that is highly disturbing, the dreaded GOP establishment is right to avoid this topic like the plague. What McCarthy and those trying to raise the volume on impeachment are doing is merely the sequel to the same movie that led Republicans to shut down the government in October. Just as attempts to shut down the government were seen by most Americans as an indication that the GOP placed partisanship over their responsibility to govern, they will view impeachment talk as proof that they are trying to criminalize political disagreements. Going down that road is an act of political suicide motivated by despair.

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Last week the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss the way President Obama has overstepped his authority in enforcing—and not enforcing—the law with respect to ObamaCare and other topics. Though, as National Review noted in a report on the event, the members initially shied away from the “I” word, some eventually warmed to the notion that impeachment was an appropriate response to his decisions. That willingness to tiptoe up to a discussion about impeachment was celebrated by liberals like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank who saw the hearing as a partisan waste of time as well as an indication that much of the House GOP caucus is “crazy.” But it was defended by NR’s Andrew McCarthy, who not only thinks it’s an important discussion but sees impeachment as “the only remedy” for Obama’s “systematic presidential lawlessness.”

Interestingly, Milbank agrees with McCarthy about Obama’s overreach, writing that, “this president has stretched the bounds of executive authority almost as much as his predecessor, whose abuses bothered Republicans much less (and Democrats much more).” But leaving aside the question of hypocrisy, McCarthy believes the president’s violations actually rise to the level of the constitutional bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors” for impeachment and thinks the only obstacle to putting the president on trial is political will. While he agrees that, as was the case in 1998 when Republicans did impeach Bill Clinton, there is no national political will in the nation to depose Barack Obama, he seems to think the GOP should be working to change public opinion on this point.

But though I agree with McCarthy that Obama’s presidency is a failure at home and abroad and that he has played fast and loose with the law in a manner that is highly disturbing, the dreaded GOP establishment is right to avoid this topic like the plague. What McCarthy and those trying to raise the volume on impeachment are doing is merely the sequel to the same movie that led Republicans to shut down the government in October. Just as attempts to shut down the government were seen by most Americans as an indication that the GOP placed partisanship over their responsibility to govern, they will view impeachment talk as proof that they are trying to criminalize political disagreements. Going down that road is an act of political suicide motivated by despair.

That conservatives would head down the same troublesome road so soon after the political disaster of the shutdown is an indication that some on the right simply aren’t thinking straight about their struggle against Obama’s liberal agenda. We were told by Senator Ted Cruz and others that any tactic, even contemplating a shutdown or a default, was worth it because if ObamaCare was implemented it would mean the end of liberty. Two months later that kind of rhetoric looks pretty silly, not just because it was over the top but because they were wrong about ObamaCare. Far from it being untouchable, the fiasco of the bill’s rollout has made it entirely possible to imagine its collapse, if not its eventual repeal. Lacking confidence in the system and the ability of Republicans to go on fighting for their principles, some conservatives considered a kamikaze charge over the cliff as the only honorable response to the fact that a Democratic Senate and a reelected Democratic president would not repeal or delay ObamaCare.

So, too, does McCarthy seem to argue that impeachment is the only way to stop Obama from transgressing legal norms in implementing the health-care bill or enforcing immigration laws. His reaction to the frustrations of working within the system is to try and build support for the most extreme remedy afforded by the Constitution.

But, just like the meltdown, this is not only a misreading of the political mood of the nation but bad political advice for an opposition that has gained back crucial ground in the weeks since the shutdown ended and the public’s attention has shifted from GOP foolishness to Obama’s follies.

McCarthy makes some strong arguments about the legitimacy of impeachment as a response to political misdeeds by a president, especially when he quotes Alexander Hamilton’s definition of high crimes and misdemeanors as abuses of the “public trust,” violations of a “political” nature in the sense that “they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.” But impeachment is not an appropriate answer to political disagreements, even if they involve the way laws are enforced. I agree with McCarthy the president is wrong to attempt to selectively enforce provisions of laws. Yet most Americans rightly see impeachment as an abandonment of democratic politics. They believe an attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election held just last year via impeachment in the absence of genuine crimes is a political trick and will make those who try it pay a high price.

Is accepting this widespread view an act of weakness by a feckless GOP establishment, as McCarthy seems to indicate? To the contrary, it is an act of maturity to understand that, as with the shutdown, transgressing political norms in this manner is viewed by most Americans as far worse than anything Obama might be doing. Criminalizing political differences, something Democrats have often resorted to when Republicans are in power, isn’t just a political mistake. It undermines the very system conservatives are seeking to preserve. 

As bitter as it may be for Republicans to accept, the proper remedy to Obama’s policies is to win the next midterm elections and then the presidency in 2016 if they can. As the last few weeks have shown, those preaching that extreme remedies are required to avert the imminent demise of our liberties have lost faith in our system as well as in the power of conservative ideas to win back the majority of Americans.

Talk of impeachment, like the shutdown, is a gift to the president and the Democrats since it illustrates a lack of seriousness on the part of some Republicans. If any of them go down this road, they will be doing conservatism a great disservice and helping, as the shutdown briefly did, the president keep his head above water in an otherwise disastrous second term.

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The Shutdown and the VA Governor’s Race

Some of the most vocal advocates for shutting down the federal government if the Affordable Care Act wasn’t defunded (always a delusional hope) are now blaming the Republican “establishment” for the defeat of Ken Cuccinelli in Tuesday’s race to be the next governor of Virginia. Some voices on the right are even suggesting that the “establishment” wanted Cuccinelli to lose. Why? In order to deny the Tea Party a victory.

That may (regrettably) be true in some cases. But there’s something else that complicates this theory a bit, and something which Jonathan touched on in his post. According to Cuccinelli’s own campaign, one of the factors for his loss–not the only one for sure, but one of them–was the government shutdown. Why? Because Virginia is home to hundreds of thousands of federal employees. So the shutdown succeeded in diverting attention away from the Affordable Care Act onto the government shutdown. Meaning that for a couple of crucial weeks Cuccinelli was on defense as opposed to offense. And in a close race, that could have made a difference.

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Some of the most vocal advocates for shutting down the federal government if the Affordable Care Act wasn’t defunded (always a delusional hope) are now blaming the Republican “establishment” for the defeat of Ken Cuccinelli in Tuesday’s race to be the next governor of Virginia. Some voices on the right are even suggesting that the “establishment” wanted Cuccinelli to lose. Why? In order to deny the Tea Party a victory.

That may (regrettably) be true in some cases. But there’s something else that complicates this theory a bit, and something which Jonathan touched on in his post. According to Cuccinelli’s own campaign, one of the factors for his loss–not the only one for sure, but one of them–was the government shutdown. Why? Because Virginia is home to hundreds of thousands of federal employees. So the shutdown succeeded in diverting attention away from the Affordable Care Act onto the government shutdown. Meaning that for a couple of crucial weeks Cuccinelli was on defense as opposed to offense. And in a close race, that could have made a difference.

As this story reports:

As Obamacare was about to roll out to the public on Oct. 1, Cuccinelli stepped up criticism of the new system. But the government shutdown started that same day, forcing the candidate to shift gears and pronounce his support of federal workers, even as he continued to lead followers in rousing declamations of the federal government as “the biggest opponent of them all.”

“We were debating the shutdown and not the Obamacare fight,” [Chris LaCivita, Cuccinelli’s chief campaign strategist], said.

After the election Mr. LaCivita said, “I can’t help but ask myself, what would have been the result had he had five weeks of this discussion instead of just 2½?”

A good question.

As a Virginian who proudly voted for Cuccinelli, here’s the post-election thought I have: If Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, and those who supported their efforts, hadn’t undertaken their doomed-from-the-start gambit, Mr. Cuccinelli would have done better. Whether Cuccinelli would have won if the government shutdown had never taken place is impossible to know, and in retrospect the national party could certainly have done more to help Cuccinelli. But this much is clear: advocates of the shutdown ended up temporarily helping rather than hurting ObamaCare. And in the process they lent a big assist to Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe.

Remind me again why the shutdown was such a great idea.

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The Revenge of Politics

Searching for an overarching cause of the result in last night’s Virginia gubernatorial election is going to consist mostly of Democrats and Republicans talking past each other. That’s because, to some degree, they are both right. ObamaCare’s disastrous rollout was not enough to doom Terry McAuliffe, but neither was his victory an affirmation that ObamaCare poses no real political risk to Democrats. Likewise, it seems the government shutdown hurt Ken Cuccinelli, but not enough to make Tea Party conservatism toxic in the swing state of Virginia.

Additionally, neither contender was viewed as a particularly good candidate, making it unrealistic for those on the left and right to try to make either candidate a stand-in for his national party. (Democrats seem to consider McAuliffe an embarrassment even in victory, and for good reason.) But in fact this lack of an overarching theme is a theme in itself. That is, politics–party and individual, national and local–and not ideology offers a pretty simple explanation both for the election in Virginia and the one in New Jersey, in which Republican Chris Christie won reelection in a landslide in a heavily Democratic state. Bergen County Record columnist Charles Stile explains in a lengthy, but eminently worthwhile column how Christie cruised to victory:

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Searching for an overarching cause of the result in last night’s Virginia gubernatorial election is going to consist mostly of Democrats and Republicans talking past each other. That’s because, to some degree, they are both right. ObamaCare’s disastrous rollout was not enough to doom Terry McAuliffe, but neither was his victory an affirmation that ObamaCare poses no real political risk to Democrats. Likewise, it seems the government shutdown hurt Ken Cuccinelli, but not enough to make Tea Party conservatism toxic in the swing state of Virginia.

Additionally, neither contender was viewed as a particularly good candidate, making it unrealistic for those on the left and right to try to make either candidate a stand-in for his national party. (Democrats seem to consider McAuliffe an embarrassment even in victory, and for good reason.) But in fact this lack of an overarching theme is a theme in itself. That is, politics–party and individual, national and local–and not ideology offers a pretty simple explanation both for the election in Virginia and the one in New Jersey, in which Republican Chris Christie won reelection in a landslide in a heavily Democratic state. Bergen County Record columnist Charles Stile explains in a lengthy, but eminently worthwhile column how Christie cruised to victory:

Christie’s bold leadership during Superstorm Sandy, the shrewd marketing of his Jersey tough guy persona and several important legislative accomplishments are indeed important factors in the strong support for his reelection. But while the public was seeing all of that, Christie discreetly and methodically courted Democrats with every lever of power at his disposal. By the end, many of those Democrats would supply the manpower, money or simply the photo ops for his campaign.

Long before Buono entered a race that no other Democratic contender wanted to come near, Christie had already won the campaign. While the cameras and the social-media feeds and the political pundits focused on Christie’s forceful personality, his often over-the-top comments and his welcoming embrace of President Obama after Sandy, Christie was planting the seeds for his own reelection, Demo­cratic mayor by Democratic mayor, Democratic boss by Democratic boss, Demo­cratic union leader by Democratic union leader. As the ancient Chinese military tome “The Art of War” noted, “Every battle is won before it is fought.”

That was only part of it, of course. Christie’s work to recruit Democrats to his campaign certainly helped, but his interactions with constituents were crucial to his reelection. Outside New Jersey, he is known for his made-for-YouTube confrontations. But within the state, far more powerful are the conversations Christie has with voters that aren’t YouTube-friendly.

Christie simply worked hard to make sure he was heard all around the state, and refused to accept the premise that there were any voters he couldn’t convince if given the chance. As the New York Times reports in its recap of Christie’s victory:

For example, he won over Michael Blunt, a black Democrat and mayor of Chesilhurst, a largely black borough in South Jersey, with relentless wooing. Mr. Blunt, who recalled how Mr. Christie held a town hall in his community, steered more municipal aid to it and invited him to a Juneteenth celebration, marking the end of slavery, at the State House, impressing him with his knowledge of the holiday. And the governor invited black elected officials to Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion near Princeton, and told them how a black friend in college took him to a historically black campus to demonstrate how it felt to be in the minority.

“If a person has no problem going in enemy territory to explain his policies, that person we really need to look at,” said Mr. Blunt, who was a delegate for Mr. Obama last year.

Christie won over numerous left-leaning voters not with slogans but with classic rope-line politics. As a skilled practitioner of local politics, Christie was able to keep national politics at bay–something neither McAuliffe nor Cuccinelli was able to do.

On this point, Politico’s piece on the “six takeaways” from the Virginia race is instructive. Briefly, here are reporter James Hohmann’s six lessons, though the article is worth reading in full for Hohmann’s explanation of each:

  • Obamacare almost killed McAuliffe.

  • Cuccinelli might have won if he had more money.

  • It was a base election.

  • The gender gap mirrored the presidential.

  • Obama himself was a mixed bag.

  • The shutdown still hurt Republicans.

Two of those stand out immediately as national issues: the government shutdown hurting Cuccinelli and ObamaCare hurting McAuliffe. The fact that it was a base election, according to Hohmann, would seem to indicate that the two candidates failed precisely where Christie succeeded: convincing the unconvinced. The “gender gap” is a complicated, but obviously national issue in the context of whether it “mirrored the presidential.”

And why might Cuccinelli have won with more money? In large part because he would have been able to run more ads and compete with the negative advertising blitz that McAuliffe was able to purchase with help from big-money, out of town, national politicians (like the Clintons, who were absent from the Jersey race, and Michael Bloomberg).

Members of the House of Representatives are rarely immune from public mood swings. Governors can be, but the Virginia gubernatorial election is a reminder of how easily a statewide race can be nationalized in such a media-saturated environment.

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Madison’s Moment

He may not have a grand monument like Thomas Jefferson; the pop culture revival of John Adams; a name synonymous with courage and heroism like George Washington; or the institutional legacy of Alexander Hamilton. But James Madison has still managed to work his way back into the daily experience of Washington D.C.’s political conversation. Madison–constitutional framer, secretary of state, president–is being invoked furiously by both Republicans and Democrats because of his consistent advocacy for the separation of powers that produces compromise and gridlock by design.

Unfortunately for Madison (though he might not find it unfortunate at all), he is being invoked for his culpability in the recent government shutdown. From the Washington Post to National Review to the Washington Examiner to even the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, there is striking agreement that if you’re looking for someone to blame for the recent polarization in Washington, the culprit of choice is Madison.

That’s the good news–sort of–because whether or not you think Madison should be praised for his conception of the separation of powers (and he most certainly should), it is at least accurate to credit him with being a driving force behind the system. The bad news is that some of those who come to praise Madison do so based on a misreading of history that Madison would scarcely recognize. There has been much hyperbole aimed at conservatives from liberals who believe that the government shutdown was unprecedented–this view, keep in mind, relies on the idea that the history of the world began with Barack Obama’s election in 2008–and as such was the manifestation of a malevolent world view on the part of Republicans in Congress. Here is the opening paragraph from John Judis’s cover story in the New Republic:

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He may not have a grand monument like Thomas Jefferson; the pop culture revival of John Adams; a name synonymous with courage and heroism like George Washington; or the institutional legacy of Alexander Hamilton. But James Madison has still managed to work his way back into the daily experience of Washington D.C.’s political conversation. Madison–constitutional framer, secretary of state, president–is being invoked furiously by both Republicans and Democrats because of his consistent advocacy for the separation of powers that produces compromise and gridlock by design.

Unfortunately for Madison (though he might not find it unfortunate at all), he is being invoked for his culpability in the recent government shutdown. From the Washington Post to National Review to the Washington Examiner to even the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, there is striking agreement that if you’re looking for someone to blame for the recent polarization in Washington, the culprit of choice is Madison.

That’s the good news–sort of–because whether or not you think Madison should be praised for his conception of the separation of powers (and he most certainly should), it is at least accurate to credit him with being a driving force behind the system. The bad news is that some of those who come to praise Madison do so based on a misreading of history that Madison would scarcely recognize. There has been much hyperbole aimed at conservatives from liberals who believe that the government shutdown was unprecedented–this view, keep in mind, relies on the idea that the history of the world began with Barack Obama’s election in 2008–and as such was the manifestation of a malevolent world view on the part of Republicans in Congress. Here is the opening paragraph from John Judis’s cover story in the New Republic:

In the Federalist Papers, James Madison promised that a large republic with a representative government would avoid the “instability, injustice and confusion” that had plagued many nations in Europe. In a representative government, he reasoned, disruptive factions would be unable to gain sufficient power to dissolve the social contract. The people’s representatives would not necessarily be paragons of virtue, but they would be less likely to succumb to “local prejudices and schemes of injustice.” In the 225 intervening years, Madison has been proven correct, with two great exceptions. One was the Civil War. The other was the 16-day government shutdown of October 2013.

Madison would, of course, be appalled. He was, after all, president during the War of 1812. That war would split the nation so profoundly as to be dubbed, variously, a civil war all its own and a second war of independence. And as for succumbing to “local prejudices and schemes of injustice,” the war’s political polarization would crest with the Hartford Convention of 1814 at which Federalists from New England would either threaten secession openly or implicitly. They had already, as Richard Brookhiser notes, been “smuggling supplies to the British army in Canada.” Shy of secession, they made noises about striking a separate peace with the British.

The “or else” tacked on to these threats was a list of constitutional amendments the conventioneers wanted adopted, among them restrictions on presidential eligibility aimed specifically at curbing the electoral success of the sons of Virginia. For those who think Republicans engineered the 2013 shutdown because they could not win elections fair and square and therefore contrived to take the country “hostage,” one wonders what they would make of such personalities as Gouverneur Morris (“Unquestionably it is civil war. And what of it?”) and Timothy Pickering.

But of course Madison was far from blameless. One clever flourish of the conventioneers was in writing that “in cases of deliberate, dangerous and palpable infractions of the constitution” it is appropriate for “a state to interpose its authority” with the federal government. This language echoed nearly word for word a section of the Virginia Resolution of 1798, which was written by Madison himself. (Madison’s authorship was not yet publicly revealed, but as it was promulgated by his party in his home state, his affiliation with and approval of its ideas were widely assumed.)

The Virginia Resolution, in turn, along with Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolution, was a protest against the Alien and Sedition Acts which were put in place by the Federalists and used by President John Adams (and an enabling Supreme Court) to silence domestic criticism and stack the deck electorally against the Republicans. Madison talked Jefferson out of pushing secession in response to the Acts, but he would no doubt scoff at the idea that the government shutdown of 2013 was an unprecedented manifestation (aside from the Civil War) of partisan polarization, disrupting a history of harmony that he would not recognize.

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The War on Rational Conservatism

What exactly are conservatives arguing about these days? After listening to the latest speeches of Senator Ted Cruz denouncing his critics and reading Erick Erickson’s latest piece at Red State in which he angrily denounces the editors of National Review as “well fed” and complacent enablers of liberalism, I think those who are not already clued in to the subtext of the dispute would be forgiven for being puzzled about what it was all about. Those parachuting into this debate from the outside will struggle mightily to see what the two sides disagree about in terms of principles or policies and will discover little evidence of any actual split on anything of importance. All participants oppose President Obama’s policies and ObamaCare. They’d like to see the president replaced by a conservative at the next presidential election and ObamaCare to be repealed. But that unity of purpose isn’t enough to prevent what is starting to take on the appearance of an all-out civil war within the ranks of the conservative movement. Those on the right have grown used to seeing liberal mainstream publications and broadcast outlets doing stories about conservatives tearing themselves apart that are motivated more by a desire to fuel the dispute than any objective proof of a significant split. But in this case, it’s hard to avoid the impression that what we are witnessing is actually nothing less than a full-blown civil war among conservatives that may have profound implications for the outcome of both the 2014 and 2016 elections.

At the heart of this is the ongoing debate about the wisdom of the government shutdown that resulted from the Republican majority in the House of Representatives following Cruz’s advice about tying the continuing resolution funding the government to a proposal to defund ObamaCare. As many sober conservatives predicted, the strategy failed. It accomplished nothing other than to damage the Republican Party in the eyes of most of the nation, although it did burnish Cruz’s reputation among those on the right who think the GOP is an assembly of sellouts because they failed to accomplish the impossible. In response to calls from those who were correct about this for a reassessment, Cruz and his followers have begun a campaign whose purpose seems to be to trash all those who had doubts about the senator’s misguided tactic and to damn them as not merely faint-hearts but traitors to the cause of conservatism. That this is arrant nonsense almost goes without saying. But the longer this goes on and the nastier it gets, the more convinced I’m becoming that far from a meaningless spat that will soon be forgotten, the shutdown may become the impetus for a genuine split within conservative ranks that will fester and diminish the chances that liberals will be prevented from retaining their grip on power in Washington.

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What exactly are conservatives arguing about these days? After listening to the latest speeches of Senator Ted Cruz denouncing his critics and reading Erick Erickson’s latest piece at Red State in which he angrily denounces the editors of National Review as “well fed” and complacent enablers of liberalism, I think those who are not already clued in to the subtext of the dispute would be forgiven for being puzzled about what it was all about. Those parachuting into this debate from the outside will struggle mightily to see what the two sides disagree about in terms of principles or policies and will discover little evidence of any actual split on anything of importance. All participants oppose President Obama’s policies and ObamaCare. They’d like to see the president replaced by a conservative at the next presidential election and ObamaCare to be repealed. But that unity of purpose isn’t enough to prevent what is starting to take on the appearance of an all-out civil war within the ranks of the conservative movement. Those on the right have grown used to seeing liberal mainstream publications and broadcast outlets doing stories about conservatives tearing themselves apart that are motivated more by a desire to fuel the dispute than any objective proof of a significant split. But in this case, it’s hard to avoid the impression that what we are witnessing is actually nothing less than a full-blown civil war among conservatives that may have profound implications for the outcome of both the 2014 and 2016 elections.

At the heart of this is the ongoing debate about the wisdom of the government shutdown that resulted from the Republican majority in the House of Representatives following Cruz’s advice about tying the continuing resolution funding the government to a proposal to defund ObamaCare. As many sober conservatives predicted, the strategy failed. It accomplished nothing other than to damage the Republican Party in the eyes of most of the nation, although it did burnish Cruz’s reputation among those on the right who think the GOP is an assembly of sellouts because they failed to accomplish the impossible. In response to calls from those who were correct about this for a reassessment, Cruz and his followers have begun a campaign whose purpose seems to be to trash all those who had doubts about the senator’s misguided tactic and to damn them as not merely faint-hearts but traitors to the cause of conservatism. That this is arrant nonsense almost goes without saying. But the longer this goes on and the nastier it gets, the more convinced I’m becoming that far from a meaningless spat that will soon be forgotten, the shutdown may become the impetus for a genuine split within conservative ranks that will fester and diminish the chances that liberals will be prevented from retaining their grip on power in Washington.

I think Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru were on to something when they wrote in their National Review essay that sent Erickson over the edge that the problem behind the angst on the right is despair. I touched on the same theme in an essay in the Intercollegiate Review published last month as part of its symposium on what’s the matter with conservatism, as well as in a blog post published here titled “Tea Party Despair and ObamaCare.” Frustrated by the Supreme Court’s illogical decision that affirmed ObamaCare’s constitutionality and by the results of the 2012 election, many conservatives have more or less given up on conventional politics. Right now all they are interested in is a fight, no matter how quixotic. And anyone who won’t charge over the cliff with them strikes such people as something far worse than a political foe.

In response, Erickson and others who have written about this topic ground their attacks on the so-called Republican “establishment” as being analogous to the situation in the 1950s when William F. Buckley founded the modern conservative movement as part of a protest against the way Republicans had become enablers of the Democrats’ liberal agenda. Regardless of the political facts of the day, they say the only rational response of conservatives to the situation is to take a principled stand much like Buckley’s famous declaration that the purpose of National Review was to “stand athwart history” and to yell “stop.” Those who won’t do that are no better than the Republicans who opposed Buckley. Even more important, they say that those who are more concerned with Republicans winning elections even at the cost of their souls than standing up for principle really are RINOs and traitors no matter what their positions on the issues might be.

But it bears repeating there is a big difference between the state of the Republican Party when Buckley was first yelling “stop” and today.

Buckley and his allies were justified in trying to radically change the nature of the GOP because many of its leaders weren’t “timid” conservatives who were afraid of challenging the legitimacy of liberal government. Nelson Rockefeller and much of the GOP establishment of that time really were liberals and were not shy about saying so. Buckley had no interest in electing more liberals even if they called themselves Republicans, but he also famously said conservatives should always back the most electable conservative, not the most right-wing candidate.

The battle that was waged over the soul of the GOP over the next quarter century after NR’s founding was fierce because there were real ideological differences at stake. By contrast, Cruz and Erickson’s targets are not merely fellow conservatives but among the most conservative individuals and outlets in the country. Their sin is not the genuine dispute about the virtue of the welfare state and big government that drove the internal arguments in the Republican Party in that era, but rather one of attitudes. The editors of NR as well as hard-core conservatives like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are not blasted for their beliefs as Nelson Rockefeller and Co. were but because they differ with Cruz on tactics.

What we are seeing here is nothing less than a call for a Leninist-style schism on the right in which NR and McConnell are treated as the Mensheviks to the Tea Party’s Bolsheviks. Anyone who won’t hue to the Cruz party line isn’t merely wrong but, as Erickson’s piece seems to indicate, worthy of being read out of the conservative movement and denounced as betrayers.

This makes sense only if you are of the mindset that anyone not willing to shut down the government is indistinguishable from Barack Obama no matter how conservative they might be. As such, what we are witnessing is not an attempt to convert the Republican Party into a gathering of conservatives—something a previous generation of conservatives accomplished under the leadership of Ronald Reagan—but a war on rational conservatism whose only end is the immolation of the movement the Gipper helped build.

What does this portend?

It’s too soon to know for sure, but right now I’m starting to think that those inclined to pooh-pooh the chances for a genuine split are wrong. If that portion of the conservative base listens to Cruz and Erickson they are going to spend much of the next year trying to exact revenge on the senator’s critics. And if that means helping to knock off genuine conservatives like McConnell who will almost certainly be replaced in the Senate not by more Cruz clones but by liberal Democrats, they think it’s no great loss because such people are more interested in purifying the GOP than in beating the Democrats. Assembling a national coalition that could enable conservatives to govern is a matter of complete indifference to them and they seem openly contemptuous of the necessity of gaining Republican majorities and a Republican president in order to advance the conservative agenda.

This drama will be played out in many states next year in the midterm elections, but it will come to a head in 2016 when a single formidable moderate conservative may possibly be opposed by a split field of right-wingers in the race for the GOP presidential nomination. If so, those today yelling about the betrayal of Cruz are likely to be louder and even more self-destructive. A few more years in which Tea Partiers stop seeing themselves as the vanguard of the conservative movement but as members of a different political alignment altogether could lead to exactly the kind of right-wing walkout from the GOP that was threatened in 2008 and 2012 but never actually materialized. If so, we may look back on the aftermath of the shutdown as not just a foolish argument started by frustrated conservatives but the beginning of a schism that enabled the Democrats to consolidate their hold on power in Washington for the foreseeable future.

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What’s Good for Cruz May Be Bad for GOP

The national media appears to be shocked at the hero’s welcome Senator Ted Cruz got when he returned home to Texas this past weekend. They are equally mystified at the applause the Tea Party favorite gets when he hits the road to speak in places like Iowa, a crucial state for those with presidential ambitions, where he will headline a GOP event this Friday. Though the government shutdown he helped engineer has crashed Republican Party poll numbers, Cruz appears to be living a charmed life lately as his attempt to blame the failure of his idea on less dogmatic Republicans is playing very well among the members of his Tea Party base. Where someone else might take this moment to engage in some introspection about what went wrong, Cruz has stayed on the offensive, and that’s exactly what his fans want. Which means that although chances of Republican success in 2014 seem to have diminished, Cruz’s stock is going up. And that is something that ought to scare not only mainstream Republicans who remain appalled at his ability to maneuver the GOP into a destructive shutdown but also fellow conservatives who are thinking about running for president.

Cruz may be reviled by the rest of the Senate Republican caucus, despised by the national media and even has been subjected to criticism by conservative pundits who rightly flayed him for a performance that did not achieve its stated aims and hurt his party. But it would be a mistake to confuse the bad reviews he has gotten for his role in the shutdown with an accurate reading of his influence or his chances in 2016. A few months ago, he was just an obnoxious freshman whose refusal to play by the Senate rules had given him a following on the right. Today, it must be acknowledged that the shutdown has made him a genuine power in the Republican Party who could well be heading into 2016 with a considerable edge over other conservatives.

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The national media appears to be shocked at the hero’s welcome Senator Ted Cruz got when he returned home to Texas this past weekend. They are equally mystified at the applause the Tea Party favorite gets when he hits the road to speak in places like Iowa, a crucial state for those with presidential ambitions, where he will headline a GOP event this Friday. Though the government shutdown he helped engineer has crashed Republican Party poll numbers, Cruz appears to be living a charmed life lately as his attempt to blame the failure of his idea on less dogmatic Republicans is playing very well among the members of his Tea Party base. Where someone else might take this moment to engage in some introspection about what went wrong, Cruz has stayed on the offensive, and that’s exactly what his fans want. Which means that although chances of Republican success in 2014 seem to have diminished, Cruz’s stock is going up. And that is something that ought to scare not only mainstream Republicans who remain appalled at his ability to maneuver the GOP into a destructive shutdown but also fellow conservatives who are thinking about running for president.

Cruz may be reviled by the rest of the Senate Republican caucus, despised by the national media and even has been subjected to criticism by conservative pundits who rightly flayed him for a performance that did not achieve its stated aims and hurt his party. But it would be a mistake to confuse the bad reviews he has gotten for his role in the shutdown with an accurate reading of his influence or his chances in 2016. A few months ago, he was just an obnoxious freshman whose refusal to play by the Senate rules had given him a following on the right. Today, it must be acknowledged that the shutdown has made him a genuine power in the Republican Party who could well be heading into 2016 with a considerable edge over other conservatives.

The disconnect between the way Cruz’s antics have played with the Tea Party and the perception of his conduct among the rest of the electorate, not to mention the Republican leaders, shouldn’t surprise anyone. Cruz was sent to the Senate by Texans to shake up the Senate and to oppose the increase in debt and the growth in federal power that ObamaCare symbolizes. Throughout his 10 months in office, he has consistently played to the crowd outside of Washington that isn’t interested in how laws get passed or the way politicians get things done in the Capitol. When Cruz tells the GOP base that President Obama and the Democrats would have cracked and given in on ObamaCare if only more Republicans had backed him, they believe it even if it flies in the face of common sense.

But while party leaders vow they won’t get pressured by Cruz and his friends in the House Tea Party caucus into another shutdown fiasco (as Senator Mitch McConnell keeps saying, the second kick of the mule to your head has no educational value), sticking to his rhetorical guns only makes the Texan more popular among those on the right who want no accommodation or compromise with Democrats even if it means a shutdown or a debt default.

The national polling numbers for Republicans as well as those in the generic congressional vote are getting to the point where the shutdown may have made some heretofore-safe GOP House seats competitive and some competitive races safe for the Democrats. The Republicans’ chances of taking back the Senate next year must also be deemed as having moved from even to a long shot. A year is a long time in politics. The ObamaCare rollout disaster and the president’s tin-eared refusal to adequately explain this problem may start the process of reversing the effects of the shutdown and make 2014 a good year for Republicans after all. But it is also possible that the idea that the GOP is run by a pack of extremists led by Cruz that is relentlessly pushed by the liberal mainstream media will take hold in the public imagination to the point where it can’t be reversed. Cruz’s increased notoriety may help depress the value of the GOP brand nationally to the point where the party may be in bigger trouble than anyone thinks.

But even if this worst-case scenario plays out for Republicans, don’t expect this to diminish Cruz’s hold on many conservatives. Indeed, by standing out in this manner and being willing to fight no matter how hopeless the struggle, he may have already become a conservative folk hero and leapfrogged over others who were hoping to run in 2016.

Cruz is a particular threat to Senator Rand Paul. Paul appeared to have expanded the libertarian base he inherited from his father into a faction that was big enough to fuel an effective challenge for the 2016 Republican nomination. But right now, Cruz’s anti-ObamaCare suicide charge appears to have supplanted Paul in the hearts of grassroots conservatives whose enmity for Obama and big government is boundless. Nor should other potential candidates like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal or 2012 runner-up Rick Santorum assume that Cruz couldn’t threaten their support among religious conservatives.

To note Cruz’s popularity on the right is not to assume that he is the inevitable 2012 GOP nominee. More mainstream candidates with better chances in a general election like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie or even Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker may be able to either win without competing for right-wing voters or transcend Cruz’s appeal.

But no one should underestimate Cruz at this point. Right now it looks like Cruz’s popularity on the right seems to have an inverse relationship to his party’s falling stock. If this trend continues, the GOP looks to be in big trouble next year and in 2016 even as Cruz becomes a credible threat to win his party’s presidential nomination. You don’t have to be a deep thinker about Washington politics or even much of a cynic to realize that perhaps this was the point of much of what we’ve just gone through.

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Can GOP Win Budget Language War?

There are a lot of reasons why Republicans lost the government shutdown. The fact that it was a stupid tactic without a chance of success is at the top of the list. But a large reason why the Democrats seized the metaphorical high ground and never relinquished it was their ability to label the GOP as essentially taking the government hostage because of their demand that ObamaCare be defunded. Their ability to do this is based in no small measure by the way the liberal mainstream media parroted the Democrats’ spin in which Republicans were branded as terrorists. But now that the shutdown is over and the GOP (or at least its leadership) realizes another such effort would be suicidal, one of their priorities should be to start refighting the language war as they prepare to negotiate a budget agreement.

That appears to be what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was doing yesterday when he staked out some familiar territory in opposing the president’s demand for new “revenue” if the two parties are to ever agree on how to keep the government funded in the future. Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, McConnell said:

Unfortunately, every discussion we’ve had about this in the past has had what I would call a ransom attached to it: $1 trillion in new tax revenues. We don’t have this problem because we don’t tax enough in this country; we have this problem because we spend too much.

McConnell’s right, and though this may seem like he’s been saying the same thing for years, his attempt to turn the kidnapper meme around on the president is significant. Rather than tearing each other apart or blaming McConnell (as Ted Cruz does) for the failure of a no-win strategy, this is exactly the line of argument the GOP caucus needs to stick to in the coming months if they are not to be bulldozed once again by the White House.

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There are a lot of reasons why Republicans lost the government shutdown. The fact that it was a stupid tactic without a chance of success is at the top of the list. But a large reason why the Democrats seized the metaphorical high ground and never relinquished it was their ability to label the GOP as essentially taking the government hostage because of their demand that ObamaCare be defunded. Their ability to do this is based in no small measure by the way the liberal mainstream media parroted the Democrats’ spin in which Republicans were branded as terrorists. But now that the shutdown is over and the GOP (or at least its leadership) realizes another such effort would be suicidal, one of their priorities should be to start refighting the language war as they prepare to negotiate a budget agreement.

That appears to be what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was doing yesterday when he staked out some familiar territory in opposing the president’s demand for new “revenue” if the two parties are to ever agree on how to keep the government funded in the future. Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, McConnell said:

Unfortunately, every discussion we’ve had about this in the past has had what I would call a ransom attached to it: $1 trillion in new tax revenues. We don’t have this problem because we don’t tax enough in this country; we have this problem because we spend too much.

McConnell’s right, and though this may seem like he’s been saying the same thing for years, his attempt to turn the kidnapper meme around on the president is significant. Rather than tearing each other apart or blaming McConnell (as Ted Cruz does) for the failure of a no-win strategy, this is exactly the line of argument the GOP caucus needs to stick to in the coming months if they are not to be bulldozed once again by the White House.

At the heart of this problem for Republicans is the fact that their opponents’ demands have been every bit as ideological as their own in the various budget negotiations. If Republicans are adamant that spending must be reined in and that, as McConnell rightly asserts, the country’s problem isn’t that taxes are too low, then how can that position be branded as extremist when Democrats are digging in their heels, demanding that entitlement programs be preserved intact and that taxes must go up? Rather than merely rail at the unfairness of it all, it’s time conservatives started calling out Obama in the same manner that they have been labeled.

Can it work?

Well, as some on the right would be the first to point out, it doesn’t matter what they say if it is only being transmitted to much of the public via the filter of mainstream liberal publications and broadcast outlets. But such a defeatist attitude fails to take into account that earlier generations of conservatives—in particular Ronald Reagan—managed to change the way the country thought about the welfare state in an even more hostile media environment. If Reagan could convince Americans that government was the problem in an era when national television news meant three liberal talking heads and without the help of Fox News and conservative talk radio, how is it that those who claim to be his successors are incapable of changing the way contemporary issues are framed?

It may not be fair to compare anyone to the “Great Communicator,” but the lesson here is not that Republicans need another Reagan. That would be nice, but a more realistic hope is for their talking heads and leaders to concentrate their fire on the unwillingness of the president and his supporters to drop their addiction to taxes and spending. Language not only counts, it is decisive in determining the outcome of political battles. Tea Partiers who are currently obsessed with anger at those on the right who understood that the shutdown was a fiasco need to refocus their ire at the White House. If Republicans hope not to be schooled again by Obama, they’d better start following McConnell’s lead and turning the hostage metaphor around.

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Immigration Reform’s Death Certificate

Chalk up one more casualty of the government shutdown. If there were any doubts that there was virtually no chance that the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate is dead on arrival in the House, it came in the form of comments from Senator Marco Rubio yesterday on Fox News Sunday. Rubio, the key conservative member of the gang of eight that crafted the reform bill that was, after a long fight, adopted by the Senate, said he endorsed a decision by the House Republican leadership to approach the issue by separate bills rather than the omnibus legislation that he had worked so hard to pass. Throughout the Senate fight, Rubio had defended the idea that creating a pathway to citizenship for the millions already here illegally should go forward simultaneously with efforts to strengthen border security. But, after the bitterness of the past month during which President Obama had refused to negotiate with Republicans, such an approach was now impossible:

What Congressman Labrador is addressing is something that I hear from opponents of our efforts all the time, and I think that’s a valid point, and that is this: you have a government and a White House that has consistently decided to ignore the law and how to apply it. Look at the health care law. The law is on the books, they decide which parts of it to apply and which parts not to apply. They issue their own waivers without any congressional oversight. And what they say is, you’re going to pass an immigration law that has both some legalization aspects and some enforcement. What’s not to say that this White House won’t come back and cancel the enforcement aspects of it? …

Now, this notion that they’re going to get in a room and negotiate a deal with the president on immigration is much more difficult to do for two reasons. Number one, because of the way that president has behaved towards his opponents over the last three weeks, as well as the White House and the things that they’ve said and done. And number two, because of what I outlined to you. So, I certainly think that immigration reform is a lot harder to achieve today than it was just three weeks ago because of what’s happened here. Again, I think the House deserved the time and space to have their own ideas about how they want to move forward on this. Let’s see what they can come up with. It could very well be much better than what the Senate has done so far.

It can be argued that the gang of eight’s bill was doomed in the House long before the Senate passed it and Rubio’s relative silence on the issue in recent months made it clear that he had already jumped ship on it. But his statement is the official death certificate. Though President Obama said last week that immigration is a top priority for him in the coming months, the leftover nastiness from the shutdown and debt ceiling battles means he might as well forget it.

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Chalk up one more casualty of the government shutdown. If there were any doubts that there was virtually no chance that the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate is dead on arrival in the House, it came in the form of comments from Senator Marco Rubio yesterday on Fox News Sunday. Rubio, the key conservative member of the gang of eight that crafted the reform bill that was, after a long fight, adopted by the Senate, said he endorsed a decision by the House Republican leadership to approach the issue by separate bills rather than the omnibus legislation that he had worked so hard to pass. Throughout the Senate fight, Rubio had defended the idea that creating a pathway to citizenship for the millions already here illegally should go forward simultaneously with efforts to strengthen border security. But, after the bitterness of the past month during which President Obama had refused to negotiate with Republicans, such an approach was now impossible:

What Congressman Labrador is addressing is something that I hear from opponents of our efforts all the time, and I think that’s a valid point, and that is this: you have a government and a White House that has consistently decided to ignore the law and how to apply it. Look at the health care law. The law is on the books, they decide which parts of it to apply and which parts not to apply. They issue their own waivers without any congressional oversight. And what they say is, you’re going to pass an immigration law that has both some legalization aspects and some enforcement. What’s not to say that this White House won’t come back and cancel the enforcement aspects of it? …

Now, this notion that they’re going to get in a room and negotiate a deal with the president on immigration is much more difficult to do for two reasons. Number one, because of the way that president has behaved towards his opponents over the last three weeks, as well as the White House and the things that they’ve said and done. And number two, because of what I outlined to you. So, I certainly think that immigration reform is a lot harder to achieve today than it was just three weeks ago because of what’s happened here. Again, I think the House deserved the time and space to have their own ideas about how they want to move forward on this. Let’s see what they can come up with. It could very well be much better than what the Senate has done so far.

It can be argued that the gang of eight’s bill was doomed in the House long before the Senate passed it and Rubio’s relative silence on the issue in recent months made it clear that he had already jumped ship on it. But his statement is the official death certificate. Though President Obama said last week that immigration is a top priority for him in the coming months, the leftover nastiness from the shutdown and debt ceiling battles means he might as well forget it.

Even as he disavowed any interest in persuading House Republicans to adopt his bill or to trust the administration to implement it or any other measure, Rubio still defended his decision to take part in the gang of eight. He rightly noted once again that the “amnesty” for illegals that conservative critics of reform decry better describes the status quo than a future in which they would be brought in from the shadows after paying fines and placed at the back of the line. He’s also right that the country desperately needs reform of a broken system and that those who favor stricter enforcement should applaud the Senate bill’s emphasis on the subject, which some have even dubbed overkill.

But even though he’s sticking to his guns as to why the bill was right on policy, Rubio is finally conceding that it is politically impossible.

Earlier in the year, many conservatives, including those who support immigration reform, thought President Obama wanted the bipartisan bill to fail so he could cynically continue to use the issue to hammer Republicans in the next election cycle. But the president wisely kept silent through much of the spring and stayed out of the Senate fight, enabling the bill’s passage. By claiming that the president has undermined bipartisanship even on this topic, Rubio is declaring that bipartisanship on any issue has become impossible in the current political environment.

There will be those who will blame this on the GOP architects of the shutdown strategy and there will be some truth to that assertion. But partisan gutter fighting is a two-way street. By ruthlessly choosing to exploit his advantage and not negotiate with Republicans over the shutdown and the debt ceiling, the president has made trust across the political aisle a thing of the past.

While there may be months of bitter wrangling over immigration ahead of us, Rubio’s statement makes it clear that Congress is no more capable of crafting a compromise on this issue than they were on other topics. That’s bad for those who care about this issue and bad for those Republicans who, like Rubio, knew this was an opportunity for their party to jettison the anti-immigrant sentiments that are undermining its future.

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