Commentary Magazine


Topic: Republican Party

Can ObamaCare Fiasco Save the GOP?

What a difference a couple of weeks can make. In the wake of a disastrous decision to let Tea Party stalwarts muscle them into agreeing to a government shutdown, the Republican Party looked lost. Polls showed them bleeding support at levels that could conceivably hurt their hold on the House of Representatives next year as well as killing any hope they could take back control of the Senate. In doing so, it appeared as if this turn of events had saved the Obama administration from slipping into lame-duck status and irrelevancy. Democrats had good reason to crow about this and milked the general disgust about the shutdown as much as they could. But once the dust settled from that fiasco, it allowed both the media and the public to focus on what should have been the top story since October 1 but which had been obscured by the attention devoted to the shutdown: the farcical rollout of ObamaCare.

With each passing day since the president’s signature health-care legislation was launched it’s now obvious that the administration has lost control of the story. At first it was just a matter of a dysfunctional website. Then it became one in which the incompetence of the Department of Heath and Human Services was compounded by the arrogance of Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the denials of the White House. But once it became apparent that President Obama had been lying for the last three years when he repeatedly promised that Americans would be able to keep their insurance if they liked it rather than being forced onto the ObamaCare exchanges, a tipping point was reached. That more details are leaking out every day that reinforces the negative impression of ObamaCare is adding to the administration’s problems.

So it’s little surprise that the New York Times led its front-page with a story about how Democrats are “feeling anxious” about the future tied to the ObamaCare boondoggle. While some in the party are claiming, as Senator Chuck Schumer did, that the anger at the Tea Party over the shutdown will be more of a “long-term” liability for the GOP, most Democrats know better. The ObamaCare disaster not only changed the political narrative that worked so well for them. It goes straight to the heart of an underlying liberal weakness: the belief that big government is not only incompetent but also a threat to the wellbeing and the pocketbooks of ordinary Americans.

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What a difference a couple of weeks can make. In the wake of a disastrous decision to let Tea Party stalwarts muscle them into agreeing to a government shutdown, the Republican Party looked lost. Polls showed them bleeding support at levels that could conceivably hurt their hold on the House of Representatives next year as well as killing any hope they could take back control of the Senate. In doing so, it appeared as if this turn of events had saved the Obama administration from slipping into lame-duck status and irrelevancy. Democrats had good reason to crow about this and milked the general disgust about the shutdown as much as they could. But once the dust settled from that fiasco, it allowed both the media and the public to focus on what should have been the top story since October 1 but which had been obscured by the attention devoted to the shutdown: the farcical rollout of ObamaCare.

With each passing day since the president’s signature health-care legislation was launched it’s now obvious that the administration has lost control of the story. At first it was just a matter of a dysfunctional website. Then it became one in which the incompetence of the Department of Heath and Human Services was compounded by the arrogance of Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the denials of the White House. But once it became apparent that President Obama had been lying for the last three years when he repeatedly promised that Americans would be able to keep their insurance if they liked it rather than being forced onto the ObamaCare exchanges, a tipping point was reached. That more details are leaking out every day that reinforces the negative impression of ObamaCare is adding to the administration’s problems.

So it’s little surprise that the New York Times led its front-page with a story about how Democrats are “feeling anxious” about the future tied to the ObamaCare boondoggle. While some in the party are claiming, as Senator Chuck Schumer did, that the anger at the Tea Party over the shutdown will be more of a “long-term” liability for the GOP, most Democrats know better. The ObamaCare disaster not only changed the political narrative that worked so well for them. It goes straight to the heart of an underlying liberal weakness: the belief that big government is not only incompetent but also a threat to the wellbeing and the pocketbooks of ordinary Americans.

After a week spent dealing with Sebelius saying “whatever” to a question at a congressional hearing on the website disaster and a tortured denial and explanation from the White House about the fact that millions are losing their coverage in spite of the promises and guarantees from the president and other Democrats, the White House hoped they had hit bottom. But in the last day, we’ve gotten the first hard figures about ObamaCare enrollment that is subjecting the president to more derision as we now know that only six people in the entire country were able to enroll via the dysfunctional website on its first day and only a hundred or so the day after. Even worse, it now appears that some of the country’s top hospitals are opting out of ObamaCare. That means those forced into the exchanges won’t have access to some of the best medical institutions.

All this has created a political momentum shift that is startling in the swiftness with which it has undone the advantage the Democrats had recently enjoyed. In particular, the Virginia governor’s race, in which Democrat Terry McAuliffe seemed to have received a major boost from the shutdown fallout, has lost ground in the last week. While a week ago he looked to be pulling away with margins in some polls that were as high as 12 to 17 points, the focus on ObamaCare has pulled him back into single digits. While Democrats will focus on the polls that still show him leading by seven points, one is now measuring his advantage at only two points over Ken Cuccinelli. Though a last-minute comeback for the GOP seems unlikely given the changes in Virginia’s demographics, the shift in the polls still shows how badly the attention devoted to ObamaCare has impacted the president’s party.

This doesn’t mean the Republicans’ problems have gone away completely. The schism between Tea Party zealots and more mainstream Republicans still has the capacity to hurt the party badly. But what has happened with ObamaCare is not a two-week story. The more the public learns about its details and its impact on individuals and the economy, the less they are going to like it. Disingenuous explanations for the lies told while the White House was selling it are not going to help.

In order for the Tea Party theme to work for the Democrats, they are going to have to depend on a GOP civil war that will cripple the most electable Republicans. That could happen. But ObamaCare is a gift that will keep on giving for the GOP long after its website is made functional, assuming that ever happens.

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Make ObamaCare’s Failure the Story

Former Bush press secretary and current Fox News host Dana Perino has some good advice for House Republicans planning on questioning beleaguered Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week: don’t be jerks. That’s the short version of a piece she ran on the Fox News website today and members of the Energy and Commerce Committee should take her five tips to heart when Sebelius comes before them on Wednesday. But the hearing is more than just an opportunity for the much-reviled House GOP to prove they can appear in public without making fools of themselves. After Saturday Night Live’s deft satire of Sebelius this past weekend, the secretary has already been elevated from an obscure former Kansas governor to a national laughing-stock. What Republicans need to do now is not only, as Perino points out, avoid making her look sympathetic but to start focusing on how this happened as well as the major ObamaCare problems that go far beyond a dysfunctional website.

As John Steele Gordon previously noted, the Daily Caller’s story published last week about the identity of the company that was given the contract to build Healthcare.gov raises tantalizing questions about whether this was just another sweetheart deal to an Obama contributor, not to mention the possible ties of one of its chief officers to the first lady. Congress should not ignore these leads, but neither should they be overplayed in a high-handed manner. As Perino writes, the committee members should act like they know what they’re talking about instead of just spouting and wind up making viewers feel sorry for Sebelius; they should come armed with facts, “bottle the fake outrage,” channel the frustration of conservatives about this boondoggle, and be able to say what they’re for as well as what they’re against.

But we also need to move beyond the website problem to the dire consequences for many Americans of what happens once this legislation is put into action. The president promised the country no one would lose the plans they already had or have their costs go up. We already know that isn’t true. Policies are being cancelled because they don’t meet ObamaCare’s specifications, forcing many Americans to buy new plans with theoretically better coverage but also at much higher prices. Indeed, at this point, it may well be that more people have lost their existing coverage than have signed up for ObamaCare.

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Former Bush press secretary and current Fox News host Dana Perino has some good advice for House Republicans planning on questioning beleaguered Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week: don’t be jerks. That’s the short version of a piece she ran on the Fox News website today and members of the Energy and Commerce Committee should take her five tips to heart when Sebelius comes before them on Wednesday. But the hearing is more than just an opportunity for the much-reviled House GOP to prove they can appear in public without making fools of themselves. After Saturday Night Live’s deft satire of Sebelius this past weekend, the secretary has already been elevated from an obscure former Kansas governor to a national laughing-stock. What Republicans need to do now is not only, as Perino points out, avoid making her look sympathetic but to start focusing on how this happened as well as the major ObamaCare problems that go far beyond a dysfunctional website.

As John Steele Gordon previously noted, the Daily Caller’s story published last week about the identity of the company that was given the contract to build Healthcare.gov raises tantalizing questions about whether this was just another sweetheart deal to an Obama contributor, not to mention the possible ties of one of its chief officers to the first lady. Congress should not ignore these leads, but neither should they be overplayed in a high-handed manner. As Perino writes, the committee members should act like they know what they’re talking about instead of just spouting and wind up making viewers feel sorry for Sebelius; they should come armed with facts, “bottle the fake outrage,” channel the frustration of conservatives about this boondoggle, and be able to say what they’re for as well as what they’re against.

But we also need to move beyond the website problem to the dire consequences for many Americans of what happens once this legislation is put into action. The president promised the country no one would lose the plans they already had or have their costs go up. We already know that isn’t true. Policies are being cancelled because they don’t meet ObamaCare’s specifications, forcing many Americans to buy new plans with theoretically better coverage but also at much higher prices. Indeed, at this point, it may well be that more people have lost their existing coverage than have signed up for ObamaCare.

For the past few months, the main story in American politics was what seemed to be the obsessive determination on the part of Republicans to obstruct ObamaCare. Now, thanks to a website that demonstrated anew the incapacity of Democrats and the government they worship to run a complicated sector of the economy, the GOP is getting a second chance to show the country what they were up in arms about. But if the confrontation with Sebelius turns into a circus that will allow the media to claim the Republicans are playing games, it will allow the architects of this disaster to slither out of peril.

The best indicator of the administration’s vulnerability is that for the first time it looks like Democrats may be abandoning the president’s sinking ship. Whereas congressional Democrats have heretofore loyally stuck with the health-care legislation in the past, the fact that ten Senate Democrats signed onto New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s letter calling for a delay in the deadline for open enrollment demonstrates that we may be almost at the tipping point for this issue. While we can expect many congressional Democrats to stick to their “fix it, don’t nix it” mantra, the GOP has to leave some room for some fair-minded members of Obama’s party to chime in on the outrage over incompetence and possible corruption. But if Republicans flub their bout with Sebelius, that chance may be wasted.

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Cruz’s Critics Aren’t Just GOP Establishment

Senator Ted Cruz is the darling of the Republican base these days. Though most observers on both sides of the aisle consider the government shutdown he helped engineer to have been a disaster for his party, many conservatives love the fact that he was willing to fight the president and the Democrats to the last ditch on ObamaCare. Some even believe his claim that had everyone in the GOP drunk the Kool-Aid he was handing out in the Capitol, the tactic would have succeeded even if there is no rational reason to think so. More importantly, many think that any Republican who warned that the shutdown was a dumb tactic without a chance of success is a RINO traitor and part of the problem in Washington to which the Texas freshman is the only solution.

This Cruz-inspired schism seems to be the main topic for discussion about the Republican Party these days, and made the Texan’s visit to Iowa this past weekend to give a speech a matter of more than passing political interest. His appearance in the first-in-the-nation caucus state highlighted the traction he has gained among Tea Partiers, and Cruz continued to milk it with barbed comments that were aimed just as much at less militant Republicans than they were at Obama and the Democrats. But when Rick Santorum called out Cruz on Meet the Press for hurting the party more than he helped it with the shutdown, it’s time to admit there is more going on in the GOP right now than a simple split between the Tea Party and the so-called party establishment.

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Senator Ted Cruz is the darling of the Republican base these days. Though most observers on both sides of the aisle consider the government shutdown he helped engineer to have been a disaster for his party, many conservatives love the fact that he was willing to fight the president and the Democrats to the last ditch on ObamaCare. Some even believe his claim that had everyone in the GOP drunk the Kool-Aid he was handing out in the Capitol, the tactic would have succeeded even if there is no rational reason to think so. More importantly, many think that any Republican who warned that the shutdown was a dumb tactic without a chance of success is a RINO traitor and part of the problem in Washington to which the Texas freshman is the only solution.

This Cruz-inspired schism seems to be the main topic for discussion about the Republican Party these days, and made the Texan’s visit to Iowa this past weekend to give a speech a matter of more than passing political interest. His appearance in the first-in-the-nation caucus state highlighted the traction he has gained among Tea Partiers, and Cruz continued to milk it with barbed comments that were aimed just as much at less militant Republicans than they were at Obama and the Democrats. But when Rick Santorum called out Cruz on Meet the Press for hurting the party more than he helped it with the shutdown, it’s time to admit there is more going on in the GOP right now than a simple split between the Tea Party and the so-called party establishment.

Just a year and a half ago Santorum was leading the opposition to the establishment in the Republican presidential primaries. Though he failed to stop the Mitt Romney juggernaut, the long-shot candidate won Iowa and several other primaries and caucuses on his way to being the runner-up in the GOP race. Santorum clearly hopes to try again in 2016 and that explains, at least in part, his willingness to criticize a potential opponent like Cruz.

But in doing so, he illustrated that there are more than just two factions within the GOP. Cruz may be the leading spokesman for the Tea Party critique of Washington Republicans’ inability to defeat ObamaCare and the rest of the liberal project. But Santorum’s ability to tap into working-class resentments of a party that seems at times to be dominated by big business as well as his ability to speak for social conservatives should remind us that there are elements in the party outside of Capitol Hill or K Street that are not solely motivated by Cruz’s concerns about small government.

Of course, there is a great deal of overlap between Santorum’s core constituency and those who are attracted to Cruz. The same can also be said of many of the Republicans who supposedly fall into the category of establishment supporters because of their disdain for the shutdown strategy. Almost all Republicans these days want smaller government and oppose ObamaCare. But it needs to be understood that many of those who were appalled at the party’s embrace of a big-business establishment-type figure like Romney are not necessarily going to jump on Cruz’s bandwagon or accept his single-minded tactics that brand anyone who isn’t ready to follow him into every fight, no matter how quixotic, as a closet liberal.

Santorum’s dogged social conservatism seems the antithesis of the belief of a RINO, but even he understood that the gap between what he conceded was Cruz’s “laudable” goal of eliminating ObamaCare and a coherent plan to accomplish it was huge.

Moreover, Santorum reminded Republicans that the notion that Cruz is the face of the Republican Party today is laughable.

Unlike the Democratic Party, which has the president, there isn’t a leader in the Republican Party right now. That’s part of the reason for the mess and the confusion in the party. But that’s always the way it is with a party out of power. You have lots of different faces and those faces, as we’ve seen, they come and they go.

Santorum is hoping that his time as a leading Republican isn’t in the past tense, but we won’t know that for sure until we see whether his brand of religious conservatism can hold its own against that of Cruz, Rand Paul, or even Marco Rubio or Chris Christie. But while the latter may be the stand-in for Romney for GOP voters, the others will be battling each other for a share of the conservative vote.

The point here is not that Santorum or any of the other potential candidates can beat Cruz. Rather, the point to be gleaned from this exchange is that for all of Cruz’s recent notoriety, he is just one man in a party full of potential presidents with a variety of conservative constituencies rather than a mere standoff between Cruz’s rebels and the establishment. Those who think the only real story about the Republicans in the coming years is whether Cruz will lead a successful purge of all who opposed him are missing that.

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Can John McCain Win a GOP Primary?

The aftermath of the government shutdown hasn’t done much to cool the tempers of Republicans angered by their humiliating defeat at the hands of President Obama. Rather than accept responsibility for the failure of the no-win strategy they steered their party into, Tea Partiers are venting their frustration at the so-called establishment and vowing to try to defeat all those who don’t meet their standards for conservative purity even if that means dooming any hopes for the GOP to retake the Senate. Front and center on the list of the Republicans on their hit list is, of course, Senator John McCain of Arizona. Which is why his announcement earlier this week that he is seriously considering running for a sixth term in the Senate isn’t so much an indication of his desire to hold his seat as it is his throwing down of a gauntlet to a faction of his party that he hasn’t hesitated to describe as “wacko birds.”

It’s not likely that there is a Democrat in the state that has much of a chance to beat McCain either in 2016 when he will be 80 or even six years after that should he wish to keep going. But despite his general popularity, it is an open question as to whether McCain can win another Republican primary. Which means that if he does want another term, Arizona looks to be ground zero in an all-out war between a man who has become the quintessential GOP moderate and Tea Partiers who regard him as the incarnation of everything they dislike about “moderates.”

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The aftermath of the government shutdown hasn’t done much to cool the tempers of Republicans angered by their humiliating defeat at the hands of President Obama. Rather than accept responsibility for the failure of the no-win strategy they steered their party into, Tea Partiers are venting their frustration at the so-called establishment and vowing to try to defeat all those who don’t meet their standards for conservative purity even if that means dooming any hopes for the GOP to retake the Senate. Front and center on the list of the Republicans on their hit list is, of course, Senator John McCain of Arizona. Which is why his announcement earlier this week that he is seriously considering running for a sixth term in the Senate isn’t so much an indication of his desire to hold his seat as it is his throwing down of a gauntlet to a faction of his party that he hasn’t hesitated to describe as “wacko birds.”

It’s not likely that there is a Democrat in the state that has much of a chance to beat McCain either in 2016 when he will be 80 or even six years after that should he wish to keep going. But despite his general popularity, it is an open question as to whether McCain can win another Republican primary. Which means that if he does want another term, Arizona looks to be ground zero in an all-out war between a man who has become the quintessential GOP moderate and Tea Partiers who regard him as the incarnation of everything they dislike about “moderates.”

It should be recalled that the last time he faced the voters, McCain had to tack considerably to the right in order to win another term. After long being identified as a supporter of immigration reform and a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, McCain sang a slightly different tune in 2010, memorably demanding that the government build a wall along the border with Mexico. The shift, combined with a weaker than expected challenge from former congressman and talk show host J.D. Hayworth, worked nicely and the veteran senator won his primary in a walk and coasted to victory in the general election. But it isn’t likely that he can play the same game again or that he would even want to.

After antagonizing right-wingers by being the leading Republican sponsor of the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate (though it will die in the House), McCain’s open contempt for Rand Paul’s filibuster about drone attacks, and his even greater disdain for those like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, who urged Republicans to threaten a government shutdown to de-fund ObamaCare, his relations with the Tea Party can best be described as open warfare.

With the core of the party tilting further to the right there are those who assume there’s no way that McCain could survive a primary. After having antagonized conservatives on issues like campaign finance reform for decades, the dispute over the shutdown may be the final straw. Should a credible conservative, or at least one more credible than the likes of Hayworth, emerge against him, McCain will be in for the political fight of his life. Given his penchant for reaching across the aisle and an internationalist attitude on foreign policy that seems out of touch with many on the right these days, McCain is now routinely described by even as normally sober a politician as Liz Cheney as a “liberal Republican.” Though the label is more than a bit unfair, it means he will have a hard time winning a primary in such a conservative state.

That said, those who are inclined to write McCain’s reelection off as a lost cause should understand that the rules have always been slightly different for McCain. As a bona fide legendary war hero, McCain’s career has always been based as much on biography as it has a willingness to stick to conservative positions. Five years of torture in the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War earned McCain a lifetime get-out-of-jail-free card as far as many Republicans have been concerned.

It should also be said that branding McCain as “liberal” is a bit of a misnomer. On most issues of concern to conservatives, McCain is with the base of his party. Indeed, the desire of many on the right to exact revenge on him over the perception that he betrayed them on the shutdown is undermined by the fact that, as he said this week, he fought the adoption of the president’s health-care program tooth and nail before Cruz and Lee were even elected to the Senate.

Though there are issues on which he has disagreed with many Republicans, his image as a moderate is based as much on his negative views of Cruz and company and a desire to work with Democrats as much as possible. As such, no shift to the right on any issue such as immigration will win over his conservative critics the way it did in 2010. If he is to win another term, it will have to be by proving that a centrist, or what passes for one in the GOP these days, can still win a primary in a red state. That’s the sort of a challenge the always-combative McCain may relish. Indeed, given the fact that he has talked about retirement, a desire to smack down the Tea Partiers might be the only reason he is thinking about running again. But it flies in the face of everything we know about the changing face of the base of the Republican Party. While it is always a mistake to underestimate the Navy veteran turned Washington institution, the odds against him sitting in the Senate in 2017 are very long.

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Who Lost the Shutdown Matters

Most of the nation is just glad it’s over. The government shutdown and the related debt ceiling showdown was widely seen as a symptom of political dysfunction that hurt the country and led to declining favorability ratings for everyone involved though Republicans suffered more in that respect than President Obama and the Democrats. Now that it’s finished, most of us may still not think highly of the government but the standoff illustrated that even a conservative-leaning country does not like the idea of things falling apart. We may not want things to go back to business as usual in Washington but neither are we enamored of the notion of letting it fall apart. Americans are understandably tired of the debate about what led to the shutdown and moving on to the next big thing or crisis. But Republicans are still arguing about just what happened. And that is a good thing.

 The GOP can’t just move on, as Bill Clinton’s supporters used to say about his misdeeds, in the wake of the shutdown. It must assess what just happened and sort out who was right and who was wrong. Doing so isn’t merely sour grapes or recriminations. It’s a necessary post-mortem on a disaster that must be conducted. That’s why it’s vital that the accusations that the Republicans’ humiliating surrender to President Obama was somehow the fault of those who were skeptical of the shutdown tactic is so pernicious. If the lesson that many in the GOP base draw from these events is that they need to listen and obey Senator Ted Cruz, they are not only fated to undergo more such catastrophes in the future; they are ensuring that the Democrats will be running Washington for the foreseeable future.

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Most of the nation is just glad it’s over. The government shutdown and the related debt ceiling showdown was widely seen as a symptom of political dysfunction that hurt the country and led to declining favorability ratings for everyone involved though Republicans suffered more in that respect than President Obama and the Democrats. Now that it’s finished, most of us may still not think highly of the government but the standoff illustrated that even a conservative-leaning country does not like the idea of things falling apart. We may not want things to go back to business as usual in Washington but neither are we enamored of the notion of letting it fall apart. Americans are understandably tired of the debate about what led to the shutdown and moving on to the next big thing or crisis. But Republicans are still arguing about just what happened. And that is a good thing.

 The GOP can’t just move on, as Bill Clinton’s supporters used to say about his misdeeds, in the wake of the shutdown. It must assess what just happened and sort out who was right and who was wrong. Doing so isn’t merely sour grapes or recriminations. It’s a necessary post-mortem on a disaster that must be conducted. That’s why it’s vital that the accusations that the Republicans’ humiliating surrender to President Obama was somehow the fault of those who were skeptical of the shutdown tactic is so pernicious. If the lesson that many in the GOP base draw from these events is that they need to listen and obey Senator Ted Cruz, they are not only fated to undergo more such catastrophes in the future; they are ensuring that the Democrats will be running Washington for the foreseeable future.

Let me restate, as I have done many times, that I think there is much that is admirable about Cruz as well as the Tea Party movement in general. His resistance to business as usual on Capitol Hill is refreshing and needed. Conservatives should be pleased about the fact that there is a core group of Republicans in the House and the Senate that understands that the power of government must limited and that the GOP should not be co-opted in order to assist the implementation of President Obama’s plans to expand it. The days of Republican leaders operating as, in Newt Gingrich’s memorable takedown of Bob Dole, “the tax collector for the welfare state” should be over. Moreover, ObamaCare deserved to be defunded. Indeed, it must continue to be opposed wherever possible, especially as its disastrous rollout makes clear just how much of a boondoggle this vast expansion of government truly is.

But there is a difference between principled conservatism and destructive zealotry. The willingness of Cruz to cynically call conservatives to arms this fall on behalf of a strategy that never had a prayer of success calls into question his judgment. Republicans cannot run the government with only control of the House of Representatives. The attempt to defund ObamaCare could not succeed and Cruz knew it. The fact that President Obama had been daring, even begging the GOP to try it, should have tipped off the conservative base that not only could it not work, but that it would materially damage their cause. And, to one’s great surprise (including Cruz), that’s exactly what happened.

But in the aftermath of the disaster, Cruz and some of the conservative talking heads on radio and TV who urged Republicans to go down this path are not taking responsibility for their mistake. Instead, they are blaming the surrender on other conservatives, especially Senate Republicans, for not blindly following Cruz. Others even insist that the GOP should have continued to hold out in the hope that the Democrats would crack, even if that meant extending the shutdown and even brushing up against the danger of a default.

To put it mildly, this is bunk.

Yes, there were plenty of Republican senators that warned that the tactic couldn’t work and urged the House GOP caucus not to try it. And they continued to call for compromise and demand that President Obama negotiate with the Republicans to end the standoff. But to assert, as Cruz and some Tea Partiers do, that it was this factor that enabled Obama to prevail is worse than instant revisionist history; it is an exercise in the sort of magical thinking that conservatives have always associated more with utopian liberals and Marxists than their own movement.

Even if no Republican had dared to mention that Emperor Cruz wasn’t wearing any clothes that wouldn’t have made President Obama any more willing to bend to the GOP’s will. He had no reason to do so since the longer the shutdown and the closer to default the nation got, the more blame his opponents would get for the disagreement.

Yes, part of this is a function of the liberal bias of the mainstream media. Life, especially for conservatives in Washington, is unfair. But it is difficult to blame even a biased media for the fact that some conservatives were willing to play Russian roulette with the economy, even if their motivation was a good cause like stopping ObamaCare.

So long as the Democrats control the White House and the Senate, ObamaCare can’t be repealed or defunded. That is frustrating for conservatives but that’s the price you pay for losing elections in a democracy. That doesn’t mean they must simply accept that ObamaCare is “the law of the land” and shut up. But it does mean they can’t overturn it even if they all held their breath until they turned blue on the steps of the Capitol. Understanding this doesn’t make one a liberal or a RINO or any of the other insults hurled at conservatives who criticize Cruz by his adherents. It just means you are a conservative who lives in the real world rather than the fantasy Washington in which some on the right prefer to dwell.

The “blame the establishment” meme we are hearing this week has little to do with a genuine belief that the efforts of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to craft a deal that ended this nightmare was the difference between victory or defeat. What is about is an effort on the part of Cruz and his crew to craft a myth about the shutdown that will enable them to evade blame for their mistake.

If conservatives listen to them and go out and spend the next year attempting to take down McConnell and other conservatives in Senate primaries, it will increase Cruz’s influence in the party. But it won’t give him more power in the Senate since success for some of the Tea Party alternatives in those primaries will mean, as it did in 2010 and 2012, that the Republicans will blow another chance to take back the Senate.

Having taken the party over the cliff in the shutdown, Cruz and friends seek to repeat the exercise in the future and that is why they are still doing their best to abuse those who knew better all along. If Republicans let them, they’ll have no one but themselves to blame for what follows.

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Tea Party v. Establishment — What’s Next?

Yesterday I was critical of Representatives Fleming and Harris for living in what I called a fantasyland, a dream world, in which they convinced themselves that the government shutdown and fight over the debt ceiling was a victory for the right. That is transparently not true; and if Messrs. Fleming and Harris believe it’s true then they are living on another planet.

But they hardly represent all, or even most, of conservatism, or even the Tea Party. For example, this morning on Bill Bennett’s (excellent) radio program I listened to Bennett’s interview with Representative Trey Gowdy, whose conservative credentials are beyond question. Mr. Gowdy spoke honestly and self-reflectively about what went wrong and what needs to be done going forward. According to Representative Gowdy, the mistake of House Republicans (and by implication Senator Cruz and his allies in the Senate) was that they took an unpopular law, the Affordable Care Act, and hurt themselves by going after it with an even more unpopular tactic — a willingness to shut down the government and not raise the debt ceiling if ObamaCare were not defunded.

That is by my lights precisely what happened, and what many people warned in advance would happen. For now, though, what matters most is to turn what happened into a “teachable moment,” to use a favorite phrase from President Obama.

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Yesterday I was critical of Representatives Fleming and Harris for living in what I called a fantasyland, a dream world, in which they convinced themselves that the government shutdown and fight over the debt ceiling was a victory for the right. That is transparently not true; and if Messrs. Fleming and Harris believe it’s true then they are living on another planet.

But they hardly represent all, or even most, of conservatism, or even the Tea Party. For example, this morning on Bill Bennett’s (excellent) radio program I listened to Bennett’s interview with Representative Trey Gowdy, whose conservative credentials are beyond question. Mr. Gowdy spoke honestly and self-reflectively about what went wrong and what needs to be done going forward. According to Representative Gowdy, the mistake of House Republicans (and by implication Senator Cruz and his allies in the Senate) was that they took an unpopular law, the Affordable Care Act, and hurt themselves by going after it with an even more unpopular tactic — a willingness to shut down the government and not raise the debt ceiling if ObamaCare were not defunded.

That is by my lights precisely what happened, and what many people warned in advance would happen. For now, though, what matters most is to turn what happened into a “teachable moment,” to use a favorite phrase from President Obama.

I for one found Representative Gowdy’s candor and open-mindedness refreshing and encouraging. And as we move past the shutdown and the debt ceiling debacle, which inflamed passions on the right, it’s worth having people on both sides work toward bridging the divide that exists between the Tea Party and to so-called “establishment.”

To be sure, some of the divisions are significant and shouldn’t be glossed over (I for one certainly made my differences with Senator Cruz crystal clear). And both sides are of course free to critique the other, in the spirit of iron sharpening iron. Artificial rapprochements tend not to last. At the same time, it’s worth bearing in mind that the intra-conservative dispute we’ve just gone through wasn’t over ends but means. They were, at least in some important respects, tactical differences rather than strategic and substantive ones. Every conservative I know wants the Affordable Care Act undone; the question has always been how best to do that, and how best to mitigate the damage and strengthen the conservative cause given the political alignment that exists.

So yes, important differences – including differences over tone and temperament, over what is prudent and achievable, and what a genuine conservative cast of mind means – emerged during the last several weeks. Those differences are real and shouldn’t (and won’t) be ignored. But if conservatism is to be advanced, it will require some effort to find common ground and join in common cause. For those in each camp to appreciate what the other brings to the debate. We’ll see if that happens. My guess is it will, though it may require a bit more time for the intensity of this most recent battle to subside.

We’ll know soon enough.

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Cruz’s Lack of Surprise is Surprising

Senator Ted Cruz reacted to the collapse of the strategy that he had urged on the Republican Party with remarkable sangfroid today. While saying that he would not seek to block the agreement to end the shutdown, Cruz tacitly conceded that he had lost. But he predictably blamed it all on the weak willed “Washington establishment” that refused to listen to the voice of the people and trash ObamaCare and thereby preserved the “status quo.” There’s an element of truth to that as most politicians could use a little shaking up and where Cruz to limit it his activity to messing up the establishment’s hair on a regular basis rather than bullying his party into suicidal tactics, he would not deserve the opprobrium that is being launched in his direction today. But the key phrase he kept repeating today was that he was “not surprised.”

Oh really, senator?

Wasn’t it Cruz who told Republicans that if they only went along with him and passed a bill funding the government while eliminating money for ObamaCare, that the other side would blink? If he wasn’t surprised that this happened, that means, contrary to what he had been telling us for months, he knew very well that this was the only possible outcome for the shutdown. If he knew this would happen, why did he keep saying that the GOP would win if it held out? As such, instead of railing at the insincerity and corruption of the establishment, Tea Partiers and other conservatives who rightly wish to stop ObamaCare, should be asking some tough questions about Cruz’s cynicism.

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Senator Ted Cruz reacted to the collapse of the strategy that he had urged on the Republican Party with remarkable sangfroid today. While saying that he would not seek to block the agreement to end the shutdown, Cruz tacitly conceded that he had lost. But he predictably blamed it all on the weak willed “Washington establishment” that refused to listen to the voice of the people and trash ObamaCare and thereby preserved the “status quo.” There’s an element of truth to that as most politicians could use a little shaking up and where Cruz to limit it his activity to messing up the establishment’s hair on a regular basis rather than bullying his party into suicidal tactics, he would not deserve the opprobrium that is being launched in his direction today. But the key phrase he kept repeating today was that he was “not surprised.”

Oh really, senator?

Wasn’t it Cruz who told Republicans that if they only went along with him and passed a bill funding the government while eliminating money for ObamaCare, that the other side would blink? If he wasn’t surprised that this happened, that means, contrary to what he had been telling us for months, he knew very well that this was the only possible outcome for the shutdown. If he knew this would happen, why did he keep saying that the GOP would win if it held out? As such, instead of railing at the insincerity and corruption of the establishment, Tea Partiers and other conservatives who rightly wish to stop ObamaCare, should be asking some tough questions about Cruz’s cynicism.

Though Cruz appears to be positioning himself to blame members of his own party — the so-called “surrender caucus” — for the failure of this tactic, let’s have a moment of clarity before the recriminations formally begin.

The shutdown ploy didn’t fail because Republicans failed Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and the rest of the crew that pushed them down this path. The GOP did stick together as he urged them to do through 16 days of a government shutdown as their poll ratings plummeted and the nation grew increasingly uneasy at the spectacle of Washington dysfunction. It failed because, as more sensible conservatives had warned all along, it was a strategy without a path to victory. All the Democrats had to do was to hang tough and wait out the Republicans. Though it took longer than most observers thought it would, that’s what happened. Since even Cruz knows that the GOP can’t countenance anything that even smacks of a defaulting on the national debt, after “fighting the good fight,” House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had to throw in the towel.

The cause for which Cruz and other Tea Partiers labored here was a good one. ObamaCare is a disaster and should be stopped. And if the country hadn’t spent the last two weeks obsessing about the shutdown and the debt ceiling, maybe more of the mainstream media would have been forced to expend their resources covering the fiasco that was its rollout.

Nor are President Obama and the Democrats blameless here. Their refusal to negotiate with Boehner and the Republicans until the latter were forced to surrender almost unconditionally was irresponsible. So, too, were the administration’s efforts to exacerbate the effects of the shutdown.

But the bottom line is that Ted Cruz charted a course for his party that he knew all along would result in a catastrophic failure and never acknowledged that truth or sought to change course. For all of his self righteous anger at the establishment — much of which I would concede is at times entirely appropriate — what he has done is every bit as cynical as anything DC veterans have done.

While the Republican Party will recover from this debacle and live to fight another day on budget issues, entitlement reform, the debt and ObamaCare, it has been materially damaged by the strategy Cruz recklessly advocated. For that he should be held as accountable. For all of his virtues, and they are not inconsiderable, if the GOP is to eventually prevail on these issues in the future one thing is clear: it won’t happen under the leadership of Cruz or anyone like him.

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The Democratic Moment Won’t Last

With days to go before the artificial deadline set for the national debt ceiling to expire, there’s little doubt that Democrats believe the political pendulum has swung in their direction. Polls show them to be the beneficiaries of the disgust felt over the government shutdown and the general dysfunction evident in Washington. But they are just as encouraged by what they not reasonably conclude is division in the ranks of their foes. Republicans still seem split between those who are working to find a way out of the dead end that advocates of the shutdown have steered them into and those who are still insisting that what is needed is more determination to stick to their principles on the debt and ObamaCare while waiting for the Democrats to blink even if it is more likely that hell will freeze over first. President Obama spent the last two years daring the Republicans to shut down the government in the hope that it would be a political disaster for the GOP. Now that he seems to have been proven right, Democrats believe a moment has arrived in which they may not only rout the Tea Party but perhaps alter the dynamic of budget negotiations that have seemed to run against their big government beliefs for the past few years.

That’s what motivated Senator Harry Reid to refuse to accept what might have been considered a Republican surrender offer over the weekend. Rather than accept a so-called clean bill that would reopen the government and lift the current debt ceiling with no conditions as they had been calling for over the last month, Democrats raised the ante in the talks about finding a way out of the current impasse. Now they are demanding a relatively quick end to sequester budget cuts and are refusing even to accept a permanent repeal of the ObamaCare medical device tax, a face-saving measure that would allow the Republicans to act as if they had not been completely defeated.

Reid and the president are hoping Republicans are sufficiently spooked by the prospect of a default to surrender on those humiliating terms. But as strong as their position seems to be today, Democrats are still very much in danger of overplaying their hand. That’s not just because if the nation does slide into economic difficulties as a result of the expiration of the current debt ceiling and the shutdown the administration and its allies will be blamed along with the GOP. But by moving the discussion from what is perceived to be an unreasonable Republican demand to shut down the government if ObamaCare isn’t defunded to one about expanding debt and spending, Democrats are shifting the struggle back onto strong ground for their opponents.

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With days to go before the artificial deadline set for the national debt ceiling to expire, there’s little doubt that Democrats believe the political pendulum has swung in their direction. Polls show them to be the beneficiaries of the disgust felt over the government shutdown and the general dysfunction evident in Washington. But they are just as encouraged by what they not reasonably conclude is division in the ranks of their foes. Republicans still seem split between those who are working to find a way out of the dead end that advocates of the shutdown have steered them into and those who are still insisting that what is needed is more determination to stick to their principles on the debt and ObamaCare while waiting for the Democrats to blink even if it is more likely that hell will freeze over first. President Obama spent the last two years daring the Republicans to shut down the government in the hope that it would be a political disaster for the GOP. Now that he seems to have been proven right, Democrats believe a moment has arrived in which they may not only rout the Tea Party but perhaps alter the dynamic of budget negotiations that have seemed to run against their big government beliefs for the past few years.

That’s what motivated Senator Harry Reid to refuse to accept what might have been considered a Republican surrender offer over the weekend. Rather than accept a so-called clean bill that would reopen the government and lift the current debt ceiling with no conditions as they had been calling for over the last month, Democrats raised the ante in the talks about finding a way out of the current impasse. Now they are demanding a relatively quick end to sequester budget cuts and are refusing even to accept a permanent repeal of the ObamaCare medical device tax, a face-saving measure that would allow the Republicans to act as if they had not been completely defeated.

Reid and the president are hoping Republicans are sufficiently spooked by the prospect of a default to surrender on those humiliating terms. But as strong as their position seems to be today, Democrats are still very much in danger of overplaying their hand. That’s not just because if the nation does slide into economic difficulties as a result of the expiration of the current debt ceiling and the shutdown the administration and its allies will be blamed along with the GOP. But by moving the discussion from what is perceived to be an unreasonable Republican demand to shut down the government if ObamaCare isn’t defunded to one about expanding debt and spending, Democrats are shifting the struggle back onto strong ground for their opponents.

The Republican stand on funding the government is widely seen as being driven by an ideological position on ObamaCare even if the other side is no less ideological in their insistence on preserving the president’s signature health care legislation despite its disastrous rollout and the deleterious impact it will have on the economy. That places them at a real disadvantage so long as the question is finding a way to reopen the government and ensure that the government doesn’t default.

But once the discussion turns, as Reid’s attempt to do away with sequester cuts indicates, to whether Congress will allow the government to go back to the free spending ways that actually got the country into this mess, the Democratic advantage disappears. While the sequester is not the smartest way to cut government spending and has done some damage, especially to national defense, it is not unpopular because the American people have understandably come to the conclusion that it is only by such draconian means that the nation’s spending addiction can be brought under control.

Once we stop arguing about whether the government will continue to operate or whether the national debt will be paid, the question becomes one of whether Washington is capable of reforming the entitlement spending that is sinking the nation in a sea of red ink and reducing the size of government to one that can be paid without increasing the debt. And that is where the Republicans have not only the stronger argument but also the ability to rally a majority to their side.

The question for the Republican Party isn’t really so much whether Senator Ted Cruz and the Tea Party will cause it to crash and burn and loose the 2014 midterms, as it is whether it can keep the national discussion focused on taxes and spending. If, fueled by their belief that the GOP is a rudderless and sinking ship, Obama and Reid choose to try and roll back the sequester cuts and refloat the liberal agenda in the coming weeks and months, what they will be doing is actually reviving the Republicans rather than placing a stake in their hearts. The Democratic moment we are currently experiencing is real but that irresistible liberal temptation is an almost sure guarantee that it will pass.

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Is Obama Winning the Shutdown?

It’s difficult to argue with those claiming the government shutdown is an ongoing disaster for Republicans. As our John Podhoretz noted today in the New York Post, the idea that the GOP could somehow buffalo red-state Senate Democrats into abandoning the president and defunding ObamaCare was divorced from reality. It was never going to happen and now they’re stuck in a standoff with the White House that Obama thinks he’s winning. Though, as I predicted last week, those who claimed the Republicans would have to fold quickly underestimated their staying power, they’re still stuck with a plan without a path to victory or a viable exit strategy.

But even if we concede that fact, as we should, the assumption that President Obama is winning the shutdown seems to be just as farcical as Senator Ted Cruz’s assurances that the Democrats would blink in the face of conservative threats. As everyone predicted, Republicans are getting more of the blame for the government shutdown. As the latest Associated Press/GFK Poll published today illustrates, 63 percent think Republicans in Congress are not doing enough to end the shutdown while 52 percent say the same of President Obama. That’s a statistical win for the Democrats, but not exactly a vote of confidence. When it is combined with the same poll’s stunningly low 37 percent approval rating for the president, it’s time to also concede that the idea that a shutdown might be a turning point that could revive President Obama’s dismal second term is unfounded. Tea Party and Cruz critics were right to think this is a fight that the GOP should have avoided. But those who think this it is making Obama look like a hero or can help his party win the 2014 midterms are also wrong.

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It’s difficult to argue with those claiming the government shutdown is an ongoing disaster for Republicans. As our John Podhoretz noted today in the New York Post, the idea that the GOP could somehow buffalo red-state Senate Democrats into abandoning the president and defunding ObamaCare was divorced from reality. It was never going to happen and now they’re stuck in a standoff with the White House that Obama thinks he’s winning. Though, as I predicted last week, those who claimed the Republicans would have to fold quickly underestimated their staying power, they’re still stuck with a plan without a path to victory or a viable exit strategy.

But even if we concede that fact, as we should, the assumption that President Obama is winning the shutdown seems to be just as farcical as Senator Ted Cruz’s assurances that the Democrats would blink in the face of conservative threats. As everyone predicted, Republicans are getting more of the blame for the government shutdown. As the latest Associated Press/GFK Poll published today illustrates, 63 percent think Republicans in Congress are not doing enough to end the shutdown while 52 percent say the same of President Obama. That’s a statistical win for the Democrats, but not exactly a vote of confidence. When it is combined with the same poll’s stunningly low 37 percent approval rating for the president, it’s time to also concede that the idea that a shutdown might be a turning point that could revive President Obama’s dismal second term is unfounded. Tea Party and Cruz critics were right to think this is a fight that the GOP should have avoided. But those who think this it is making Obama look like a hero or can help his party win the 2014 midterms are also wrong.

Watching the president’s press conference yesterday, it was clear that this intelligence hasn’t penetrated his consciousness. The president’s hard line vowing not to negotiate over the shutdown or the debt ceiling (though offering the prospect of talks over the budget after the Republicans give up their leverage by surrendering on both the shutdown and the debt) is based on his belief that this is an argument he will always win and that his opponents will eventually see they have no choice but to give up.

For two years, Obama has been daring the Republicans to make his day with a shutdown, secure in his belief that doing so would ensure a repeat of the 1995 fight that helped rescue the Clinton presidency. But while at the urging of the Tea Party House Speaker John Boehner has finally succumbed to the temptation to don the Newt Gingrich clown suit, Obama has proved once again he is no Bill Clinton.

Pointing out Obama’s low poll figures does not exonerate the Republicans or make them look any smarter. But the media’s gang tackle of the GOP, Boehner, Cruz, and the Tea Party has missed an important element of the story that must be taken into account in any analysis of the political impact of the shutdown. As much of a blow to the Republican brand as the shutdown may be, it is far from clear that it will diminish their chances of holding onto the House next year or taking back the Senate.

Democrats may crow about the Republicans’ difficulties, but so long as the public face of their party is a president who endlessly repeats that he won’t negotiate with his foes or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, they are not likely to gain much ground with the public. Nor is there any indication that Obama’s tantrums are the sort of thing that will give his second term the boost of energy or popularity he so desperately needs.

For all the hyperventilating about the long-term damage the shutdown will do, it’s more than probable that this episode will have little or no impact on the 2014 elections. The fate of the next Congress will largely be determined by the events of the coming year that we cannot predict and by the identity of the candidates in individual swing races (which is a reminder of how much damage Tea Party extremists can really do to the GOP, as they have in the last two election cycles). Both parties will emerge bloodied and bruised from this mess. That doesn’t vindicate Cruz, but it also won’t save Obama.

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Why Republicans Are Sniping at Cruz

Even if, like me, you don’t agree with Senator Ted Cruz’s belief that Republicans should go down in flames in a vain effort to defund ObamaCare, it’s hard not to sympathize with him over the way the Texas senator is being treated by some of his colleagues. The revelation by Fox News host Chris Wallace that he received opposition research and possible questions to be posed to Cruz in advance of an announced interview with him from the staffs of both Democrats and fellow Republican senators makes it clear just how disliked the freshman legislator has become in just nine months in office. Cruz’s response to this in which he said these senators feared anything that “changes the clubby way Washington does business” is undoubtedly true.

But while a lot of the antagonism currently being directed at Cruz can be attributed to the way he chooses not to play the traditional go-along-to-get-along Capitol Hill game, it would be a mistake to dismiss it as merely an effort by the Senate club to protect the dysfunctional culture of their institution. I actually like the way Cruz is willing to muss up his colleagues’ hair on routine as well controversial issues in an effort to shake up the Senate. But no matter where you come down on the question of which tactics the GOP should adopt in fighting the implementation of ObamaCare, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the only thing Cruz has actually accomplished lately is to become the focus of an unprecedented amount of attention for a first-year legislator. If Republicans loathe and fear him it is also because they know the path that he would lead them down is one that has no possible conclusion but their political destruction while he is left standing blaming the debacle on their timidity rather than his foolhardiness. Refusing to be part of a failed system is a virtue. But in Cruz’s case it is one that may be overwhelmed by the egotism he is displaying in charting a path for his party that has no end game other than the political aggrandizement of the junior senator from Texas.

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Even if, like me, you don’t agree with Senator Ted Cruz’s belief that Republicans should go down in flames in a vain effort to defund ObamaCare, it’s hard not to sympathize with him over the way the Texas senator is being treated by some of his colleagues. The revelation by Fox News host Chris Wallace that he received opposition research and possible questions to be posed to Cruz in advance of an announced interview with him from the staffs of both Democrats and fellow Republican senators makes it clear just how disliked the freshman legislator has become in just nine months in office. Cruz’s response to this in which he said these senators feared anything that “changes the clubby way Washington does business” is undoubtedly true.

But while a lot of the antagonism currently being directed at Cruz can be attributed to the way he chooses not to play the traditional go-along-to-get-along Capitol Hill game, it would be a mistake to dismiss it as merely an effort by the Senate club to protect the dysfunctional culture of their institution. I actually like the way Cruz is willing to muss up his colleagues’ hair on routine as well controversial issues in an effort to shake up the Senate. But no matter where you come down on the question of which tactics the GOP should adopt in fighting the implementation of ObamaCare, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the only thing Cruz has actually accomplished lately is to become the focus of an unprecedented amount of attention for a first-year legislator. If Republicans loathe and fear him it is also because they know the path that he would lead them down is one that has no possible conclusion but their political destruction while he is left standing blaming the debacle on their timidity rather than his foolhardiness. Refusing to be part of a failed system is a virtue. But in Cruz’s case it is one that may be overwhelmed by the egotism he is displaying in charting a path for his party that has no end game other than the political aggrandizement of the junior senator from Texas.

If Cruz were proposing to his fellow Republicans a strategy that had a prayer of accomplishing the goal of stopping ObamaCare or in any way discomfiting their Democratic antagonists, their resentment of his lack of concern for their sensibilities would be laughable. The Senate is always in need of a few members who don’t fear to step on their colleagues’ toes and Cruz’s disdain for the clubby nature of the institution is laudable. Indeed, it is exactly why Texans sent him to the Senate instead of some other Republican willing to become a member of the D.C. establishment.

But the problem is that there is no discernible endgame to his demand to refuse to fund the government if it means allowing ObamaCare to go forward that would give the GOP a chance of success. ObamaCare should be stopped, but so long as the White House and the Senate are both controlled by Democrats, that won’t happen. Republicans can’t make up for their failure to win the 2012 elections by a filibuster. The person who is really cheering for the GOP to be led by Cruz is President Obama. He knows that a government shutdown is the one way to save his presidency and doom the Republicans to defeat in 2014. A GOP-controlled Congress would have the leverage to start chipping away at the way the president’s signature health-care legislation erodes our liberties and expands the power of the government. But if Republicans listen to Cruz and make a Custer’s Last Stand on the issue now, they will lose that chance.

Moreover, the way Cruz has hogged the spotlight while denouncing everyone who doesn’t drink the suicide caucus’s Kool-Aid lends credence to the idea that what he is really about is making himself look good at the expense of more sensible conservatives. Playing the righteous prophet now might help bolster Cruz’s possible presidential candidacy in 2016 but it does nothing to really stop ObamaCare or to help the GOP take back the Senate.

Seen in that light, the desire of some Republicans to see Cruz taken down a notch or two must be seen as not only an act of spite but one aimed at averting their party’s destruction.

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ObamaCare Exemption Is GOP Landmine

Now that President Obama’s humiliation at the hands of Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons has made it safe for Americans to go back to ignoring foreign policy, conservatives are set to resume their own civil war on funding ObamaCare. The efforts of some on the right to try and force the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to play chicken with the administration on defunding ObamaCare implementation remains a priority for Tea Partiers. In the unlikely event that they succeed in buffaloing the House leadership into going along with a plan that has zero chance of success in stopping ObamaCare, it would give a faltering President Obama the only chance he has of reversing the downward spiral of his lame-duck presidency. But the members of the suicide caucus that back this mad plan aren’t the only Republicans who are blind to political reality. Those Republicans and their staffers who are seeking to aid Democrats in stopping Senator David Vitter’s drive to prevent Congress from giving itself an exemption from ObamaCare are just as stupid. Should the GOP go along with the inside-the-beltway campaign to protect the generous federal subsidies given to congressional employees, it is playing with political dynamite.

As I wrote last Friday, the fight about the subsidies has gotten personal. Anger over Vitter’s efforts to tie up the Senate in order to derail the Democratic majority’s efforts to protect the subsidies—which are illegal under current legislation that mandates that Congress must live by the same flawed ObamaCare system it has imposed on the rest of the country—crosses party lines. Both members of Congress and, just importantly, their staffs, will suffer financially should they be forced into Obama-created health exchanges. According to Politico:

 Sources said that multiple Republican offices have reached out to Democrats to ensure that either the [Vitter] amendment doesn’t get a vote or that if it does, it fails.

If this is true, and I don’t doubt that it is, that poses an interesting question for Republicans. While they may believe that defying an ill-considered Tea Party campaign to force them to defund the government over ObamaCare will not lead to a revolt from the grass roots, do they really think they can get away with exempting themselves from the consequences of ObamaCare? If so, they may be in for a rude surprise.

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Now that President Obama’s humiliation at the hands of Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons has made it safe for Americans to go back to ignoring foreign policy, conservatives are set to resume their own civil war on funding ObamaCare. The efforts of some on the right to try and force the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to play chicken with the administration on defunding ObamaCare implementation remains a priority for Tea Partiers. In the unlikely event that they succeed in buffaloing the House leadership into going along with a plan that has zero chance of success in stopping ObamaCare, it would give a faltering President Obama the only chance he has of reversing the downward spiral of his lame-duck presidency. But the members of the suicide caucus that back this mad plan aren’t the only Republicans who are blind to political reality. Those Republicans and their staffers who are seeking to aid Democrats in stopping Senator David Vitter’s drive to prevent Congress from giving itself an exemption from ObamaCare are just as stupid. Should the GOP go along with the inside-the-beltway campaign to protect the generous federal subsidies given to congressional employees, it is playing with political dynamite.

As I wrote last Friday, the fight about the subsidies has gotten personal. Anger over Vitter’s efforts to tie up the Senate in order to derail the Democratic majority’s efforts to protect the subsidies—which are illegal under current legislation that mandates that Congress must live by the same flawed ObamaCare system it has imposed on the rest of the country—crosses party lines. Both members of Congress and, just importantly, their staffs, will suffer financially should they be forced into Obama-created health exchanges. According to Politico:

 Sources said that multiple Republican offices have reached out to Democrats to ensure that either the [Vitter] amendment doesn’t get a vote or that if it does, it fails.

If this is true, and I don’t doubt that it is, that poses an interesting question for Republicans. While they may believe that defying an ill-considered Tea Party campaign to force them to defund the government over ObamaCare will not lead to a revolt from the grass roots, do they really think they can get away with exempting themselves from the consequences of ObamaCare? If so, they may be in for a rude surprise.

Much of the discussion about the Vitter amendment has focused on the personal attacks launched by Democrats against the Louisiana senator. In an effort to humiliate Vitter and/or to blackmail him into dropping his objections to the exemption, the Senate majority is considering including its own amendment to the bill preventing any member who is suspected of soliciting prostitutes from getting a subsidy. Since Vitter’s disgraceful role in the “D.C. Madam” scandal makes him the only senator that we know of that fits into that category, there is no doubt of its purpose. The public already holds Congress in low repute, but this sort of thing can only make things worse.

Vitter has largely escaped any accountability for his involvement in the scandal (and thanks to Louisiana’s ethically challenged political culture was reelected in 2010), but the use of his past against him in this manner is more of an ethical violation than his misdeeds. Though it’s hard to believe that the Senate would actually pass legislation that would be the moral equivalent of a bill of attainder, the willingness to play hardball with Vitter shows just how determined many in Congress are to keep their sweet health-care deals even as the rest of the country is forced into ObamaCare.

But as dangerous as such a double standard would be for the entire institution, it would be doubly so for Republicans, especially those facing reelection next year. Whatever anyone thinks of Vitter as an individual, he is dead right about opposing the exemption. He’s also right that the law should be extended to requiring White House officials and other federal political appointees to be forced into the exchanges along with the rest of the hoi polloi.

Should he fail and the exemption is preserved and if Republicans had a hand in such a crooked, self-interested deal, you can bet that everyone that supports it will face a primary opponent that will use such a vote as a cudgel to beat them.

While many Republicans rightly fear the consequences of such a bloodletting that might lead to the defeat of many GOP members and candidates who are far more electable than their Tea Party opponents, this is the sort of issue that will not go away or be explained.

Those who say that forcing Congress into ObamaCare will cost the institution many skilled and experienced staffers are right. That would be a shame. Any further financial hardships imposed on them and on members, most of whom labor under the burden of having to maintain two households on an inadequate salary (even though it is more than most voters make) would also be unfortunate. But like state legislatures that raise their pay on the assumption that the public understands that the measure is reasonable, Republicans who preserve the ObamaCare exemption will learn that there are some sins that the public just doesn’t forgive.

Instead of joining efforts to sandbag Vitter, GOP members need to stand with him. If they don’t, they will live to regret it.

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The South Carolina Test Case

South Carolina conservatives smell blood. After a year in which Lindsey Graham has been identified with unpopular causes like immigration reform, opposing shutting down the government to defund ObamaCare, and reaffirmed his status as one of the leading internationalists in the Senate, the woods appear to be full of Republicans who think he’s vulnerable. With three candidates having already declared their intention to challenge the incumbent, you’d think Graham would be running scared about the chances of holding onto his seat in a state where the right predominates. But if Graham has spent 2016 acting like a politician desperate to modify his behavior in order to convince the grass roots he isn’t the RINO caricature they claim him to be, he has good reason. Not only does he have an enormous advantage in fundraising, the sheer number of opposing candidates is going to make it difficult for any one of them to break out and turn a GOP primary into a one-on-one contest that a relative moderate like Graham might lose.

These factors complicate what might otherwise be a perfect example of the struggle for the future of the Republican Party that is convulsing the GOP in the aftermath of their 2012 defeat. Graham would seem to be the perfect test case to see if a conservative senator who a) is willing to work with Democrats on some controversial issues like immigration; b) is more interested in preserving his niche as a moderating voice on foreign affairs along with his friend John McCain than in feeding conservative paranoia about government spying, in the manner of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz; and c) refuses to join the suicide caucus in the Senate like Cruz in order to pander to the Tea Party can survive a Republican primary in a conservative state. Though Graham ought to be marked for extinction because of these factors, circumstances and the absence of a single strong opponent may enable him to survive.

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South Carolina conservatives smell blood. After a year in which Lindsey Graham has been identified with unpopular causes like immigration reform, opposing shutting down the government to defund ObamaCare, and reaffirmed his status as one of the leading internationalists in the Senate, the woods appear to be full of Republicans who think he’s vulnerable. With three candidates having already declared their intention to challenge the incumbent, you’d think Graham would be running scared about the chances of holding onto his seat in a state where the right predominates. But if Graham has spent 2016 acting like a politician desperate to modify his behavior in order to convince the grass roots he isn’t the RINO caricature they claim him to be, he has good reason. Not only does he have an enormous advantage in fundraising, the sheer number of opposing candidates is going to make it difficult for any one of them to break out and turn a GOP primary into a one-on-one contest that a relative moderate like Graham might lose.

These factors complicate what might otherwise be a perfect example of the struggle for the future of the Republican Party that is convulsing the GOP in the aftermath of their 2012 defeat. Graham would seem to be the perfect test case to see if a conservative senator who a) is willing to work with Democrats on some controversial issues like immigration; b) is more interested in preserving his niche as a moderating voice on foreign affairs along with his friend John McCain than in feeding conservative paranoia about government spying, in the manner of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz; and c) refuses to join the suicide caucus in the Senate like Cruz in order to pander to the Tea Party can survive a Republican primary in a conservative state. Though Graham ought to be marked for extinction because of these factors, circumstances and the absence of a single strong opponent may enable him to survive.

As the New York Times reports today, the GOP field for 2014 in South Carolina is already crowded. Though Nancy Mace, the first female graduate of the Citadel, would seem to be the perfect alternative to Graham, she is beset by her own problems relating to her connection with a political gossip website that gained notoriety in 2010 when it was part of an attack on Governor Nikki Haley. Neither of the other two, State Senator Lee Bright and Richard Cash, seems to have much on the ball, though it’s far too early to judge them.

But so long as Graham can find safety in numbers on the primary ballot, he may well be able to avoid the fate of other Republicans like Richard Lugar who were perceived as Washington institutions that lost touch with the sentiments of their local party.

That’s an interesting development in a year when we’re supposed to think that the GOP is trending so far to the right that anyone who can be accused of choosing realistic opposition to the Obama administration, rather than to join in the rush to take the party over the cliff, is supposed to be marked for extinction.

That said, Graham is far from safe. South Carolina is also the home state of former Senate colleague and current Heritage Foundation chief Jim DeMint, who has taken to promoting the idea that any Republican that won’t vote to defund the government over ObamaCare should be replaced. Should immigration reform and his internationalist stands become even more radioactive on the right than they are now, it will heighten his difficulties. Moreover, if a viable challenger like Mace emerges from the field, then Graham may be in more trouble than he seems to be in now.

However, a Graham victory in a South Carolina GOP primary, no matter what the circumstances, will be rightly seen as a sign that Republicans are not quite as far gone as the liberal mainstream media hopes them to be.

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McAuliffe’s Lead Should Worry GOP

Up until the returns came in last November, many Republicans were still in denial about Virginia. Barack Obama’s 2008 victory there showed that a changing population had altered the assumption that it was a reliably red state. But Bob McDonnell’s gubernatorial landslide the following year allowed Republicans to believe that the 2008 result was an anomaly. However, Obama’s narrow margin last fall made it apparent that the Old Dominion must be regarded as, at best, a purple state rather than a GOP stronghold. If there was any remaining doubt about that it, looks as if this year’s race for governor will confirm it. A new poll from Quinnipiac shows Democrat Terry McAuliffe with a six-point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli among likely voters. While such a margin shows that the race is still competitive, it is significant given the avalanche of bad publicity in recent weeks about the Democratic candidate’s ethical shortcomings. If McAuliffe can a survive a summer of bad press and emerge with his biggest lead of the year, then he’s in good shape heading into the homestretch this fall.

McAuliffe’s ability to overcome polls that show voters are divided on the question of his honesty can be attributed in part to Cuccinelli’s reputation as a candidate of the hard right as well as the way Governor McDonnell’s serious ethical lapses have overshadowed any attention devoted to the Democratic candidate’s questionable private-sector activities. But no matter how you choose to spin the various elements that have produced a race that appears tilting to McAuliffe, the inability of Cuccinelli to overcome these factors must be put down primarily to the changing electoral landscape of Virginia. If even a tarnished candidate like McAuliffe can be this far ahead at this point in the race, it is a sign that the days of Red Virginia are at an end.

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Up until the returns came in last November, many Republicans were still in denial about Virginia. Barack Obama’s 2008 victory there showed that a changing population had altered the assumption that it was a reliably red state. But Bob McDonnell’s gubernatorial landslide the following year allowed Republicans to believe that the 2008 result was an anomaly. However, Obama’s narrow margin last fall made it apparent that the Old Dominion must be regarded as, at best, a purple state rather than a GOP stronghold. If there was any remaining doubt about that it, looks as if this year’s race for governor will confirm it. A new poll from Quinnipiac shows Democrat Terry McAuliffe with a six-point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli among likely voters. While such a margin shows that the race is still competitive, it is significant given the avalanche of bad publicity in recent weeks about the Democratic candidate’s ethical shortcomings. If McAuliffe can a survive a summer of bad press and emerge with his biggest lead of the year, then he’s in good shape heading into the homestretch this fall.

McAuliffe’s ability to overcome polls that show voters are divided on the question of his honesty can be attributed in part to Cuccinelli’s reputation as a candidate of the hard right as well as the way Governor McDonnell’s serious ethical lapses have overshadowed any attention devoted to the Democratic candidate’s questionable private-sector activities. But no matter how you choose to spin the various elements that have produced a race that appears tilting to McAuliffe, the inability of Cuccinelli to overcome these factors must be put down primarily to the changing electoral landscape of Virginia. If even a tarnished candidate like McAuliffe can be this far ahead at this point in the race, it is a sign that the days of Red Virginia are at an end.

In a more GOP-friendly environment, McDonnell’s problems (which have put an end to any talk about him having a political future) might not be dragging Cuccinelli down. Nor would the attempts of the liberal mainstream media to tar the Republican candidate as an extremist be working quite as well if Republicans could still count on the more conservative southern and western parts of the state being able to turn out votes that could overwhelm the margins Democrats racked up in the northern districts close to Washington. But, as the last two presidential contests showed, that is no longer the case.

The Republicans may be working on the assumption that the off-year turnout for the Democrats in 2013 will resemble that of 2009 when McDonnell won rather than 2012 when large numbers of minority and young voters helped Obama hold Virginia. But the ability of a flawed and not terribly popular Democrat to stay ahead of Cuccinelli speaks not only to the Republicans’ problems but also to the fact that the state has to be seen as tilting to the left.

All politics is local, but if these numbers hold up in November, this is a very bad sign for the GOP. The conventional wisdom is that the national turnout in the 2014 midterms will be drastically down from that of 2012 and look more like the 2010 numbers when the Tea Party revolution helped generate a Republican landslide that took back the House of Representatives. That may well be the case, but the Virginia governor’s race could show that Democrats have the ability to turn out their voters in sufficient numbers to hold onto battleground states even in off-year elections.

Coming as it always does the year after the presidential election, the Virginia race is often seen as a bellwether. That will be even more the case this year since the only significant election this November—the New Jersey’s governor’s race—is a foregone conclusion with Chris Christie coasting to an easy win.

Despite the predictions of doom from the liberal press about the future of the Republican Party, 2014 looks to be a golden opportunity for the GOP to win back the Senate and set themselves up nicely for 2016. But Virginia presents an ominous indication that talk of changing demographics with larger numbers of minority voters is not merely liberal hype. Conservatives who believe their party shouldn’t worry about trying to attract Hispanics or blacks or independents need to look closely at Virginia this year and see that their assumptions about turnout may wind up being as misleading as they were last year when Romney lost. Complacence about changing demographics is a luxury Republicans can’t afford.

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Note to Media: GOP Isn’t Doomed

There was a clear disconnect this weekend between those attending the meeting of the Republican National Committee in Boston and the mainstream media. While, by all accounts, the RNC was upbeat and fully behind Chairman Reince Preibus’s attempts to push back at the party’s liberal tormentors by threatening to boycott networks that produced puff pieces on Hillary Clinton, most of the commentary about the gathering focused on the idea that the GOP was hopelessly divided and drifting farther to the right. The best example of this genre was the piece published in Politico on Friday under the almost farcically biased headline “Eve of Destruction.”

The article claimed that every “establishment Republican” in Washington was convinced the party was in hopeless shape and that it was, if anything, in even worse condition than it had been the day after President Obama defeated Mitt Romney. With blacks, Hispanics, gays, women, and swing voters completely alienated and every effort to drag the party toward a realistic position on major issues thwarted, Republicans have, Politico seemed to argue, already lost the 2016 presidential election. If all this is true, you have to wonder why the RNC even bothered to meet.

But while the GOP definitely has its challenges, the exaggerated reports of its demise should be taken with a shovelful of salt. Far from being dead in the water, the fact that Republicans are debating key issues is a sign of health, not a terminal illness. With help from their cheering section in the media, Democrats may have gotten a leg up on characterizing Republicans as a band of extremists. But Obama’s party should be worrying more about the way the problems of the ObamaCare rollout and a steady diet of domestic scandals and foreign-policy disasters could sink them rather than chortling about the GOP’s problems. Liberals may hope that extremists will be dictating the Republican agenda in the next three years, but the party’s prospects in both 2014 and 2016 are actually quite bright.

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There was a clear disconnect this weekend between those attending the meeting of the Republican National Committee in Boston and the mainstream media. While, by all accounts, the RNC was upbeat and fully behind Chairman Reince Preibus’s attempts to push back at the party’s liberal tormentors by threatening to boycott networks that produced puff pieces on Hillary Clinton, most of the commentary about the gathering focused on the idea that the GOP was hopelessly divided and drifting farther to the right. The best example of this genre was the piece published in Politico on Friday under the almost farcically biased headline “Eve of Destruction.”

The article claimed that every “establishment Republican” in Washington was convinced the party was in hopeless shape and that it was, if anything, in even worse condition than it had been the day after President Obama defeated Mitt Romney. With blacks, Hispanics, gays, women, and swing voters completely alienated and every effort to drag the party toward a realistic position on major issues thwarted, Republicans have, Politico seemed to argue, already lost the 2016 presidential election. If all this is true, you have to wonder why the RNC even bothered to meet.

But while the GOP definitely has its challenges, the exaggerated reports of its demise should be taken with a shovelful of salt. Far from being dead in the water, the fact that Republicans are debating key issues is a sign of health, not a terminal illness. With help from their cheering section in the media, Democrats may have gotten a leg up on characterizing Republicans as a band of extremists. But Obama’s party should be worrying more about the way the problems of the ObamaCare rollout and a steady diet of domestic scandals and foreign-policy disasters could sink them rather than chortling about the GOP’s problems. Liberals may hope that extremists will be dictating the Republican agenda in the next three years, but the party’s prospects in both 2014 and 2016 are actually quite bright.

Let’s acknowledge that the battle over immigration reform and the talk by some Republicans of risking another government shutdown present Democrats with a clear opportunity. Should opponents of any effort to fix a broken immigration system succeed in thwarting efforts to pass a legislative package on the issue, it will be a gift to the Democrats and one they will have little trouble in capitalizing upon. A government shutdown, even to stop the funding of a deeply unpopular and clearly unmanageable scheme like ObamaCare, will also play into the president’s hands.

But these threats are a function of a debate going on in the GOP as it copes with the inevitable problems that always pop up when a party doesn’t control the White House. Unlike the Democrats, who are as divided on many issues as the Republicans, the GOP lacks a clear leader and a party infrastructure that is oriented toward the goal of furthering that leader’s agenda. As with any opposition party, Republicans are at the mercy of the factions that are competing for pre-eminence, with libertarians who like Rand Paul’s vision of government bumping heads with so-called establishment types.

But the media’s picture of a party held captive by extremists on abortion and obstructionists who wish to destroy the federal government is misleading. What the doomsayers fail to understand is that with a weak economy and the albatross of ObamaCare, Democrats are carrying far heavier burdens into upcoming elections than their rivals. Even if we ignore 2014, which even Politico suggested is likely to be a highly successful year for Republicans as they have an even chance to win back the Senate, the notion that the upcoming presidential campaign will be a cakewalk for Hillary Clinton reflects mindless Democratic optimism.

First of all, the odds that Republicans will actually shut down the government this fall are slim. Though Paul, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio may mean business, the vast majority of the Republican caucuses in the House and Senate have little appetite for suicide. On immigration, the battle to get something passed in the House will be tough, but the ideal Democratic scenario of no bill in the lower chamber probably won’t be realized. The result probably won’t be satisfactory for reform advocates, but, as with the suicide caucus in the Senate on ObamaCare, many Republicans will be sufficiently turned off by anti-immigration extremists like Steve King to persuade them to get something through that can’t be represented as the shutout Democrats crave.

Nor will the Democrats be able to succeed as well as they did last year with another fake “war on women” as a result of abortion battles. Liberals would be well advised to avoid a national debate on late-term abortion. Most of those who favor legal abortion in the first trimester are opposed to a procedure that is closer to infanticide than “choice” after 20 weeks. This is an issue that is fought on conservative ground and Democrats would be foolish to engage in it.

Moreover, all the doomsayers about Republicans in 2016 are ignoring the GOP’s key asset and the Democrats’ greatest liability. Republicans have a strong lineup of possible candidates in the next cycle rather than the collection of marginal figures that dominated the field that Mitt Romney beat in 2012. In particular, successful GOP governors like Chris Christie and Scott Walker should scare Democrats.

Just as important, in 2016 Democrats will be without the main factor that won them the last two presidential elections: Barack Obama. Though the prospect of the first female president will be an edge for Clinton, she is the same politician who lost a race that was handed to her on a silver platter in 2008 and will carry the baggage from the last two Democratic administrations. Without Obama’s magical touch and ability to mobilize huge turnouts from their core constituencies, the playing field in 2016 will be considerably more level than it was in 2012.

Just as important is a factor that has garnered little attention: the erasing of the Democrats’ digital and technological edge. In 2012, Democrats had a far more sophisticated get-out-the-vote campaign while Republicans were hampered by a campaign machine that couldn’t compete and was highly inefficient. Priebus seems to have taken steps to correct this shortfall and it’s unlikely that Democrats will be able to count on that advantage again.

Republicans have their problems, and should extremist libertarians capture the party and government shutdown advocates win out, it won’t have much hope of winning a presidential election. But that is not something Democrats should be counting on. The GOP has work to do to win over swing voters in the next three years–but so do Democrats. If, as appears to be their preference, they rest on their laurels and count on ObamaCare to avoid damaging the economy, in January 2017 they will find themselves reading similar columns to the Politico piece about themselves.

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Has the GOP Surrendered to Obama?

It’s not exactly a secret that Senator Ted Cruz and his staff have gotten under the skin of many of his fellow Republicans. In the course of trying to rally more GOP senators to join his effort to stop ObamaCare by going to the brink with Democrats over funding the government, Cruz said most of his caucus was “scared” to challenge the president. He was probably right about that, since they think his proposal is a suicide mission. But the Texas senator’s aides have gone even further. As Politico reported, “Cruz’s chief of staff is lambasting fellow conservatives like Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn for serving in the ‘surrender caucus.’ His top political strategist has compared Mitch McConnell to Barack Obama.” But Cruz’s merry crew isn’t alone. Rush Limbaugh told Fox News yesterday that he thought the leadership of the Republican Party had “capitulated” to the Democrats and spent more time fighting the Tea Party than the president.

If this strikes objective observers as strange, it should. While Cruz and Limbaugh are speaking of the GOP leadership as a pack of quislings, the White House’s chief talking point for the past three years has been the accusation that the same group is a bunch of relentless partisans who have spared no effort in order to sabotage the president’s liberal agenda. Even if we concede that there is a fair amount of hyperbole in both points of view, there’s no question that the rebellion on the right represents a genuine threat to the party. With the GOP already split on immigration and national security issues such as the NSA metadata collection, the willingness of figures like Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and even more significantly, Marco Rubio, to embrace a far more confrontational position than either House Speaker Boehner or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell creates the impression that this is growing into a serious problem for the party that could potentially impact its future ability to govern.

Those concerns are not without foundation, but those seeking to bury the GOP as hopelessly split are making a mistake. What’s going on this week may be troubling for Republicans, but it is as much a function of divided government as it is an ideological chasm between the so-called establishment and the firebrands. What the party of Lincoln is experiencing is nothing more than the usual headaches of the party whose opponents are in possession of the White House.

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It’s not exactly a secret that Senator Ted Cruz and his staff have gotten under the skin of many of his fellow Republicans. In the course of trying to rally more GOP senators to join his effort to stop ObamaCare by going to the brink with Democrats over funding the government, Cruz said most of his caucus was “scared” to challenge the president. He was probably right about that, since they think his proposal is a suicide mission. But the Texas senator’s aides have gone even further. As Politico reported, “Cruz’s chief of staff is lambasting fellow conservatives like Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn for serving in the ‘surrender caucus.’ His top political strategist has compared Mitch McConnell to Barack Obama.” But Cruz’s merry crew isn’t alone. Rush Limbaugh told Fox News yesterday that he thought the leadership of the Republican Party had “capitulated” to the Democrats and spent more time fighting the Tea Party than the president.

If this strikes objective observers as strange, it should. While Cruz and Limbaugh are speaking of the GOP leadership as a pack of quislings, the White House’s chief talking point for the past three years has been the accusation that the same group is a bunch of relentless partisans who have spared no effort in order to sabotage the president’s liberal agenda. Even if we concede that there is a fair amount of hyperbole in both points of view, there’s no question that the rebellion on the right represents a genuine threat to the party. With the GOP already split on immigration and national security issues such as the NSA metadata collection, the willingness of figures like Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and even more significantly, Marco Rubio, to embrace a far more confrontational position than either House Speaker Boehner or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell creates the impression that this is growing into a serious problem for the party that could potentially impact its future ability to govern.

Those concerns are not without foundation, but those seeking to bury the GOP as hopelessly split are making a mistake. What’s going on this week may be troubling for Republicans, but it is as much a function of divided government as it is an ideological chasm between the so-called establishment and the firebrands. What the party of Lincoln is experiencing is nothing more than the usual headaches of the party whose opponents are in possession of the White House.

As much as the media is rightly covering Ted Cruz’s taunting campaign, it would be inaccurate to describe Republicans as being any more divided than are Democrats. On almost all of these issues, Democrats have their own splits, including some that are every bit as bitter as those that afflict the GOP. But the lack of interest in those arguments is not just a function of liberal media bias. It’s primarily due to the fact that, for better or worse, the Democratic Party has a single, preeminent leader while Republicans don’t. That’s what happens when you lose presidential elections.

The Republican problem is not a lack of courage. McConnell has done his best to harass the Democratic majority and the president. While Speaker Boehner can’t simply wage guerrilla warfare, he, too, has sought to thwart the White House’s agenda. But without a unified leadership (something that is only possible when you have a president and even then it is not a given) and single agenda, there will always be room for dissidents to accuse those in charge of not being tough enough.

As for the government shutdown, I agree with all of those, like our Pete Wehner, who say the strategy is a loser. Going to the brink won’t stop ObamaCare and claiming that those who understand this are chickens is juvenile. But what Cruz and Rush are tapping into is the frustration of the party faithful who wonder why the party’s leaders can’t just say no to Obama and shut the monster they hate down. In the absence of a sign that Republicans share this frustration, they look to create artificial and generally meaningless distinctions between a largely imaginary establishment and a cadre of true believers.

It would be far easier for Republicans to do as Cruz wishes if they didn’t control the House. Minorities can afford to be irresponsible and to vote their consciences without caring about its impact on the nation. While some in the grass roots really wouldn’t mind a government shutdown (neither would President Obama, who rightly thinks it would be a public-relations disaster for the GOP), what they really need is a sign their congressional leaders have an alternative and are willing to fall on their swords for the sake of principle. They want inspiration as much as they crave Democratic destruction.

Talk of Republicans surrendering to Obama is absurd. But instead of just getting mad at Cruz and fuming over Limbaugh’s statements, the Republican leaders need to be crafting a message to their own supporters that takes this frustration into account. Simply harrumphing at Cruz’s bumptiousness won’t address a problem that can, at best, be managed rather than solved until they win back the White House.

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Paul, Christie, and the Soul of the GOP

For a press corps that can’t wait to start covering the 2016 horse race, the exchanges this past week between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul are a godsend. The back and forth between the two, which continued today, is unusual even for potential primary opponents since this is the sort of hatchet work left either to surrogates or the heat of battle during formal debates. But in this case it makes sense for both of them to be doing it and to start as early as possible for two reasons.

One is that these shots are not so much aimed at the target as to establish their bona fides as the leading proponent of their point of view. Paul is looking to ensure that he, and not Ted Cruz or any other potential dark horse, is the preeminent advocate of the libertarian position on foreign and defense policy. By the same token, Christie has stolen a march on Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan (both of whom also have mainstream pro-defense views and might be competing for the same donors) by taking on Paul. If the field is large in 2016, there will, in essence, be two Republican primaries in which each side of this divide will choose a candidate that will probably be the finalists for the GOP nomination.

But there is something else here at stake that explains why both think it worthwhile to start conducting this debate at least two years before even the preliminary period of the 2016 race begins. Though it appears to be a nasty quarrel between two arrogant and ambitious politicians who know the other is in his way, the harsh nature of the comments of the two directed at each other illustrate that what is going on here is nothing less than a battle for the soul of the Republican Party.

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For a press corps that can’t wait to start covering the 2016 horse race, the exchanges this past week between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul are a godsend. The back and forth between the two, which continued today, is unusual even for potential primary opponents since this is the sort of hatchet work left either to surrogates or the heat of battle during formal debates. But in this case it makes sense for both of them to be doing it and to start as early as possible for two reasons.

One is that these shots are not so much aimed at the target as to establish their bona fides as the leading proponent of their point of view. Paul is looking to ensure that he, and not Ted Cruz or any other potential dark horse, is the preeminent advocate of the libertarian position on foreign and defense policy. By the same token, Christie has stolen a march on Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan (both of whom also have mainstream pro-defense views and might be competing for the same donors) by taking on Paul. If the field is large in 2016, there will, in essence, be two Republican primaries in which each side of this divide will choose a candidate that will probably be the finalists for the GOP nomination.

But there is something else here at stake that explains why both think it worthwhile to start conducting this debate at least two years before even the preliminary period of the 2016 race begins. Though it appears to be a nasty quarrel between two arrogant and ambitious politicians who know the other is in his way, the harsh nature of the comments of the two directed at each other illustrate that what is going on here is nothing less than a battle for the soul of the Republican Party.

To recap the hostilities, Christie kicked off the dustup by denouncing the way the Republican Party is drifting toward a libertarian approach to foreign policy that seems too willing to take the country back to a September 10th mentality and, when asked if that included Paul, he responded in the affirmative and said those politicians grandstanding on the issue should sit down with 9/11 victims’ families.

Paul shot back last night in vintage fashion by saying that Christie was tearing down the Republican Party and that it “was sad and cheap that he would use the cloak of 9/11 victims” to carry on the dispute. He then went even further and said “If he cared about protecting this country, maybe he wouldn’t be in this give me, give me, give me all of the money that you have in Washington,” a clear reference to Christie’s tirade about the way some GOP conservatives held up Hurricane Sandy aid to the Northeast.

Christie fired back today by calling out Rand as complicit in the congressional pork system by pointing out that New Jersey gets only 60 cents back from Washington for every tax dollar it sends to the capital while Kentucky garners $1.50.

Clearly, as Christie observed, the argument has gotten personal between the two. In the context of the two virtual primaries that divide the Republican Party, it doesn’t do either man any harm to be perceived by his supporters as taking on the leader of the other side. Though we are literally years away from the first debates or votes cast in caucuses and primaries, the sooner any candidate establishes himself as the leading voice of one of the two main camps in the party, the better off he will be.

But the food fight aspect of these exchanges shouldn’t blind us to the deadly serious nature of this debate.

As last week’s House vote on the NSA metadata collection showed, a genuine schism on national defense is developing within the Republican Party. With nearly half of the GOP caucus prepared to embrace positions championed by Paul, Cruz, and Rep. Justin Amash in which the war on Islamist terrorism is essentially shelved, the GOP may be about to abandon its long-held position as a bastion of support for national defense and a forward American foreign policy that has carried them to victory in the past.

That this debate is being conducted largely on the basis of exaggerations and distortions of the truth makes it all the more frustrating for Republicans who see their party drifting toward a form of isolationism. As Walter Pincus pointed out in an op-ed published yesterday in the Washington Post, Paul, Cruz, and Amash have been able to rally support for this so-called libertarian cause largely because they have helped confuse Americans into thinking the NSA is reading their emails and listening to their calls in violation of the Constitution. This isn’t true. What the NSA has done is not only constitutional and being conducted under the jurisdiction of the courts and with congressional oversight; it has also foiled numerous terrorist plots.

As I wrote last week, Christie’s decision to speak up on this issue in a pointed manner, especially when other potential GOP presidential contenders who share his views have been either distracted by other issues like Ryan or pointedly silent like Rubio, has already given him a leg up on them among mainstream Republicans and donors. Moreover, his ability to take a shot and then return it twofold in this manner shows that he will be a formidable primary opponent.

Paul may have thought his filibuster and the distrust of government that has been fed by Obama’s scandals and abuses of power would be enough to allow him to break through from his extremist libertarian base. If last week’s NSA vote is any indication, such a belief is not unfounded. But what Christie has done is shown that this conquest will not only not be unopposed but will generate fierce opposition from the party’s most articulate, popular and confrontational figure. That will not only encourage others who disagree with Paul to jump into the fray but begin the process of reaffirming the GOP as the party most associated with a strong national defense.

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Shutdown Would Be Crazy But Cruz Isn’t

The genius of Senator Ted Cruz’s push to have Republicans defund the implementation of ObamaCare is that even those members of his party who have denounced the idea as madness would probably like to do it. Cruz is saying Republican bigwigs who have rejected his effort are “scared.” He’s 100-percent right about that. They are scared out of their wits about the prospect of another confrontation with the Democrats in which they would be depicted as playing chicken with the health of the nation’s economy by taking a stand that, for all intents and purposes, would amount to a government shutdown if they didn’t get their way on spiking ObamaCare. But the question is whether they are right to be.

Cruz represents the issue here as one pitting career politicians (everybody who doesn’t agree with the junior senator from Texas) and those who have put principle above the desire to get along. If it were that simple, there would be no excuse for House Republicans not to pass a continuing resolution funding the entire government but excluding ObamaCare and for at least 41 Republican senators to line up to prevent any Democratic effort to pass a budget that included the president’s signature legislation. A last minute stand of this sort will only result in a standoff that will play right into Obama’s hands and do nothing to stop the implementation of the program. Indeed, it’s what the president has hoped Republicans would do in every fiscal impasse of the last two years. So what’s wrong with an attempt to rally the troops for a glorious last stand on the issue? The answer to that question tells us all we need to know about the divide in the Republican Party.

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The genius of Senator Ted Cruz’s push to have Republicans defund the implementation of ObamaCare is that even those members of his party who have denounced the idea as madness would probably like to do it. Cruz is saying Republican bigwigs who have rejected his effort are “scared.” He’s 100-percent right about that. They are scared out of their wits about the prospect of another confrontation with the Democrats in which they would be depicted as playing chicken with the health of the nation’s economy by taking a stand that, for all intents and purposes, would amount to a government shutdown if they didn’t get their way on spiking ObamaCare. But the question is whether they are right to be.

Cruz represents the issue here as one pitting career politicians (everybody who doesn’t agree with the junior senator from Texas) and those who have put principle above the desire to get along. If it were that simple, there would be no excuse for House Republicans not to pass a continuing resolution funding the entire government but excluding ObamaCare and for at least 41 Republican senators to line up to prevent any Democratic effort to pass a budget that included the president’s signature legislation. A last minute stand of this sort will only result in a standoff that will play right into Obama’s hands and do nothing to stop the implementation of the program. Indeed, it’s what the president has hoped Republicans would do in every fiscal impasse of the last two years. So what’s wrong with an attempt to rally the troops for a glorious last stand on the issue? The answer to that question tells us all we need to know about the divide in the Republican Party.

As a practical matter, Cruz’s tactic doesn’t have much chance of succeeding. Even if Republicans stand together on this—something that is almost certainly not going to happen—success would depend on President Obama blinking before House Speaker John Boehner in negotiations to resolve the standoff. Obama would not only have no problem with such an impasse, he would actively encourage it since it would validate all of his excuses for the failure of his administration to accomplish much since his first two years in office. The plain fact is that with control of only the House with the Democrats still in firm control of the Senate and the White House, there is only so much the GOP can do. The last chance to stop ObamaCare was lost when Chief Justice John Roberts inexplicably voted to affirm its constitutionality, and nothing can alter that fact.

But the problem with letting wiser heads prevail over Cruz’s idealistic fervor is that it is much easier, as well as more appealing, to–as he keeps saying over and over–take a stand that is based purely on principle.

So the argument here is not so much about the efficacy of the tactic as it is one about philosophy: is it the purpose of a political party to help government function properly or to stand up for its ideas?

The answer is obviously both. Republicans can’t pretend they have no responsibility to keep the engine of government functioning since its basic functions such as providing for the common defense or paying our debts is vital. Yet a party that is so immersed in the Washington power game that it is immune to the appeal of ideology is not one that serves its voters well either. That’s why those Republicans who oppose Cruz (who has been joined in this effort by Mike Lee and Marco Rubio) should actually be listening to him.

Cruz has been a bull in a china shop throughout his first seven months in office and many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle can’t stand him. The argument against him is that such a confrontational approach won’t allow anything to get done, and since the talking heads are always telling us Americans want politicians to compromise, Cruz is impeding the will of the people. But given the train wreck that ObamaCare has become, surely it makes sense for Republicans to do what any effective legislative minority has always done: wage a fierce guerrilla war to make it difficult if not impossible for the administration to have its way on the issue.

The problem with Cruz’s critics is not that they are wrong about the foolishness of a government shutdown, but that many of them really are scared of the administration. You don’t have to want another shutdown to understand that a lot of the reaction to him is more about his abhorrence of the close-knit establishment club that the Senate has become than it is about his particular ideas. While a quixotic charge at ObamaCare won’t work, the GOP is wrong to dismiss the spirit that is behind this impulse. Party leaders who wonder about his popularity among the rank and file should understand that for all of his faults, he has tapped into something that ordinary Americans want in their politicians: a willingness to take risks on behalf of the principles he campaigned on. 

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The GOP’s Deep Hole

I spent the last week in Washington State and had several conversations with people about the Republican Party. What I discovered wasn’t encouraging for the Grand Old Party.  

The people I spoke to are life-long Republican voters, but to a person they were deeply disappointed with the GOP. When I pressed them on why, I heard different, and even competing, explanations. Some thought the Republican Party was too beholden to the Tea Party and too rigid on social issues. They were concerned the GOP was coming across as obstructionist and taking a suicidal position on immigration (by coming across as anti-immigration). Others believed the GOP was too moderate and conciliatory, that they were not Tea Party enough, and that they were taking a suicidal position on immigration (by embracing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants). Their level of unhappiness with the Republican Party was roughly the same—but for entirely different reasons.

Here’s where things get interesting. I decided to do my best Reince Priebus imitation, addressing as specifically and carefully as I could each of the objections that were raised. My interlocutors were often willing to concede the points I made. Yet their negative attitude toward the GOP remained. 

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I spent the last week in Washington State and had several conversations with people about the Republican Party. What I discovered wasn’t encouraging for the Grand Old Party.  

The people I spoke to are life-long Republican voters, but to a person they were deeply disappointed with the GOP. When I pressed them on why, I heard different, and even competing, explanations. Some thought the Republican Party was too beholden to the Tea Party and too rigid on social issues. They were concerned the GOP was coming across as obstructionist and taking a suicidal position on immigration (by coming across as anti-immigration). Others believed the GOP was too moderate and conciliatory, that they were not Tea Party enough, and that they were taking a suicidal position on immigration (by embracing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants). Their level of unhappiness with the Republican Party was roughly the same—but for entirely different reasons.

Here’s where things get interesting. I decided to do my best Reince Priebus imitation, addressing as specifically and carefully as I could each of the objections that were raised. My interlocutors were often willing to concede the points I made. Yet their negative attitude toward the GOP remained. 

As one person pointed out to me after our conversation, the mood was based less on the policy stands of the Republican Party, less on substance, and more on emotion. What has happened, as best as I can tell, is that the reelection of Barack Obama, as well as Democratic gains in the Senate, had a shattering effect on the confidence many Republicans have in the GOP. Their view seems to be that if the Republican Party couldn’t defeat a failed president like Obama or make gains in the Senate in a year that should have favored Republicans, it is manifestly inept. The disappointment in Obama’s victory has turned people who were once highly engaged in politics away from it, even now, nine months after the election. Call it a long post-election hangover. 

This kind of reaction isn’t unusual for a party that lost a presidential election it expected to win, though my sense is the unhappiness and despair runs deeper among Republicans than in the past. Some of this will fade away with time. The president is off to a very rough start in his second term, after all, and Republicans might be re-energized enough, and Democrats despondent enough, that the GOP makes significant gains in the 2014 mid-term elections. But I came away from my trip with a sense that the Republican Party has very deep problems with its own supporters, many of them based on perception more than reality, and it will require politicians with some fairly impressive political talents to revive the party to a dominant position in American politics. It’s a very long way from that right now.

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A GOP Senate? Don’t Bet Against It.

There has been a lot of triumphalism heard lately on the left—and even from some on the right—about Republicans allowing extremists to hijack their party and thereby dooming them to permanent minority status. The GOP has its problems and may ultimately rue the decision of so many House conservatives to put their heads in the sand about immigration and the impact their stand will have on Hispanics. But that controversy won’t stop them from taking the Senate next year if they manage to put together a slate of electable candidates in the midterm elections. The decision of Brian Schweitzer, the former governor of Montana, to pass on a Senate run is a body blow to Democrats hoping to hold onto the seat being vacated by Max Baucus in 2014. But what really ought to worry them is the fact that their party’s lucky charm in 2012 is officially labeling their chances of holding onto control of the Senate as less than likely. New York Times blogger and liberal pundit Nate Silver writes today to handicap the race for the Senate, and what he has to say should send a chill down the spines of Democrats:

A race-by-race analysis of the Senate, in fact, suggests that Republicans might now be close to even-money to win control of the chamber after next year’s elections. Our best guess, after assigning probabilities of the likelihood of a G.O.P. pickup in each state, is that Republicans will end up with somewhere between 50 and 51 Senate seats after 2014, putting them right on the threshold of a majority.

Considering that Silver’s prognostications proved to be perfect in the 2012 presidential election, that’s the sort of prediction that might leave some Democrats wondering about the wisdom of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to employ the so-called “nuclear option” that diminishes the power of the minority in the Senate.

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There has been a lot of triumphalism heard lately on the left—and even from some on the right—about Republicans allowing extremists to hijack their party and thereby dooming them to permanent minority status. The GOP has its problems and may ultimately rue the decision of so many House conservatives to put their heads in the sand about immigration and the impact their stand will have on Hispanics. But that controversy won’t stop them from taking the Senate next year if they manage to put together a slate of electable candidates in the midterm elections. The decision of Brian Schweitzer, the former governor of Montana, to pass on a Senate run is a body blow to Democrats hoping to hold onto the seat being vacated by Max Baucus in 2014. But what really ought to worry them is the fact that their party’s lucky charm in 2012 is officially labeling their chances of holding onto control of the Senate as less than likely. New York Times blogger and liberal pundit Nate Silver writes today to handicap the race for the Senate, and what he has to say should send a chill down the spines of Democrats:

A race-by-race analysis of the Senate, in fact, suggests that Republicans might now be close to even-money to win control of the chamber after next year’s elections. Our best guess, after assigning probabilities of the likelihood of a G.O.P. pickup in each state, is that Republicans will end up with somewhere between 50 and 51 Senate seats after 2014, putting them right on the threshold of a majority.

Considering that Silver’s prognostications proved to be perfect in the 2012 presidential election, that’s the sort of prediction that might leave some Democrats wondering about the wisdom of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to employ the so-called “nuclear option” that diminishes the power of the minority in the Senate.

As Silver breaks down the 2014 Senate races, it’s clear that Democrats are in trouble. Democrats will (after they win back the seat they lost in New Jersey when Frank Lautenberg died this October) be defending 21 seats next year while Republicans will only have 14 seats. That’s already a disadvantage, but that becomes even worse when you realize that none of those GOP incumbents face anything close to a formidable challenge. On the other hand, three of those Democratic seats are rated by Silver as either safe or likely GOP pickups: Montana (Baucus), West Virginia and South Dakota (where Jay Rockefeller and Tim Johnson are retiring). Add those three to the existing total of 45 Republican seats (again, discounting the New Jersey seat temporarily held by Jeffrey Chiesa) and you bring the GOP total to 48.

Silver also rates three other Democrats, North Carolina’s Kay Hagan, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and Arkansas’s Mark Pryor as tossups at best in their reelection efforts. Throw in Alaska’s Mark Begich, who currently leads his potential opponents in the polls but must still cope with the difficulty of running in a deep red state, and you have an easy path for the GOP to 50, 51 or even 52 seats. Silver goes further to postulate that if 2014 turns out to be a good year for Republicans, a not unreasonable scenario for a midterm election during the sixth year of a Democratic president’s administration, the total of GOP pickups could go as high as nine as states like Michigan and Iowa, where incumbents are retiring, might fall prey to a downward trend for President Obama’s party.

The point here is that Democrats have almost no chance of picking up any seats in 2014 and a good chance of losing some. The question is how many, and Silver rightly points out that total will be defined as much by Republican primary voters as it is by the economy or any other issue or external factor.

The most obvious example of this may be in Alaska, a state that Democrats have no business winning except if they are faced with a GOP nominee who is terribly unpopular, as is the case with 2010 Senate candidate Joe Miller or former Governor Sarah Palin. But it could also make the difference in more than half a dozen states where opportunities exist in 2014. If Republicans wind up putting forward implausible figures such as Christine O’Donnell or Sharron Angle (whose nominations transformed winnable GOP pickups into easy Democratic wins in 2010) or candidates who make astoundingly stupid gaffes like Todd Akin (who gift-wrapped Claire McCaskill’s reelection in a year where few thought she had a chance of surviving), then they’ll wind up tilting Silver’s evaluations back in the direction of the Democrats.

It’s true that seemingly safe establishment candidates can also fail, as was the case last year when drab GOP nominees wound up being dragged down in a Democratic year. But if, as was the case in 2010, Republicans are on the upswing next year as Americans grow tired of President Obama, ObamaCare and the assorted scandals attached to the administration, the need to avoid nominating politicians who are easily marginalized will be greater than ever.

For all of their problems, divisions and flaws, Republicans are in position to be in sole control of Congress in January 2015. That should chasten Democrats who foolishly think the 2012 results will be endlessly repeated in future elections and grass roots Republicans who should remember that it was their folly that has kept Harry Reid in the majority leader’s seat.

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The GOP’s Immigration Crackup

Given how many accounts have been published of yesterday’s closed door meeting of the House Republican Caucus to talk about immigration reform, it might have saved everyone a great deal of time if House Speaker John Boehner had just invited C-Span to televise it live (the cable news networks would have been too busy broadcasting the George Zimmerman murder trial). Piecing together all of the various reports, we know that Boehner warned his members of the price of inaction on the issue. But we also know that a large portion of the House GOP is inclined to do just that even if they are floating ideas about passing seven or eight different bills on the subject that will address various elements of the problem, though none are likely to address the question of what to do with the 11 million illegal immigrants already here.

Though Boehner and, even more importantly, Rep. Paul Ryan, would like to cajole the caucus into putting forward some coherent response to the bipartisan compromise bill passed by the Senate, it’s growing increasingly clear that the speaker’s warnings are going to go unheeded. Too many House members have come to the conclusion that an influential portion of their grass roots constituency won’t tolerate anything done on immigration other than the militarization of the border with Mexico that was part of the Senate’s gang of eight deal. Cheered on by some of conservatism’s leading lights such as the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and the National Review’s Rich Lowry, the consensus of most political observers is that it appears to be that the nothing option is exactly what will happen. Since, as has been pointed out continuously, most Republican House members run in districts where they don’t have to listen to anyone but fellow conservatives, few have any inclination to act in a manner that is consistent with their party’s best long-term interests, let alone doing the right thing about immigration.

While I think the doomsayers about passage of any reform bill are probably right, there’s a small chance the House can somehow cobble together something that can be called immigration reform in the form of a package of bills that might address border security, deal with the reality of illegal immigrants and rework the law in a way that would encourage legal immigration that is essential for the continued growth of our economy. But for that to happen, it would require the House GOP to start listening to the counsel being offered to them by Boehner and Ryan. Right now, that looks like too heavy a lift for either the speaker or the influential House budget chair. Like a train wreck that can’t be stopped, the GOP immigration crackup seems inevitable.

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Given how many accounts have been published of yesterday’s closed door meeting of the House Republican Caucus to talk about immigration reform, it might have saved everyone a great deal of time if House Speaker John Boehner had just invited C-Span to televise it live (the cable news networks would have been too busy broadcasting the George Zimmerman murder trial). Piecing together all of the various reports, we know that Boehner warned his members of the price of inaction on the issue. But we also know that a large portion of the House GOP is inclined to do just that even if they are floating ideas about passing seven or eight different bills on the subject that will address various elements of the problem, though none are likely to address the question of what to do with the 11 million illegal immigrants already here.

Though Boehner and, even more importantly, Rep. Paul Ryan, would like to cajole the caucus into putting forward some coherent response to the bipartisan compromise bill passed by the Senate, it’s growing increasingly clear that the speaker’s warnings are going to go unheeded. Too many House members have come to the conclusion that an influential portion of their grass roots constituency won’t tolerate anything done on immigration other than the militarization of the border with Mexico that was part of the Senate’s gang of eight deal. Cheered on by some of conservatism’s leading lights such as the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and the National Review’s Rich Lowry, the consensus of most political observers is that it appears to be that the nothing option is exactly what will happen. Since, as has been pointed out continuously, most Republican House members run in districts where they don’t have to listen to anyone but fellow conservatives, few have any inclination to act in a manner that is consistent with their party’s best long-term interests, let alone doing the right thing about immigration.

While I think the doomsayers about passage of any reform bill are probably right, there’s a small chance the House can somehow cobble together something that can be called immigration reform in the form of a package of bills that might address border security, deal with the reality of illegal immigrants and rework the law in a way that would encourage legal immigration that is essential for the continued growth of our economy. But for that to happen, it would require the House GOP to start listening to the counsel being offered to them by Boehner and Ryan. Right now, that looks like too heavy a lift for either the speaker or the influential House budget chair. Like a train wreck that can’t be stopped, the GOP immigration crackup seems inevitable.

It is unfortunate that so much of the discussion about the need for Republicans to pass immigration reform has centered on the supposed political advantages that will accrue to them if they do it. Critics of the gang of eight bill are right when they say its passage won’t guarantee Republicans a larger share of the Hispanic vote in 2016. But the problem is not so much whether Hispanics can be enticed to become GOP voters as it is the spectacle of a Republican Party that seems willing to fall over itself in order to pander to people who are openly hostile to immigration or any form of legalization for the 11 million people who are already here and aren’t going to be deported.

While Kristol and Lowry in their well argued manifesto against the reform bill claim that the current debate has been notable for the absence of “hostility to immigrants” that characterized so much of the arguments that shot down President Bush’s attempt to reform immigration, I think they are not listening much to talk radio or reading the comments sections of newspapers and magazines that report on the issue. Kristol and Lowry claim, “you can be pro-immigrant and pro-immigration, and even favor legalization of the 11 million illegal immigrants who are here and increases in some categories of legal immigration—and vigorously oppose this bill.” While I think that is undoubtedly true about that formidable pair of conservative editors, the same cannot be said for many of those who agree with them that “nothing” would be better than passing the legislation.

While they and other critics of the bill have attempted to pose the question as a no-confidence vote in the Obama administration’s trustworthiness, the idea that any fix to immigration must wait until a Republican is elected president doesn’t strike me as a particularly effective argument on policy. If the legalization-first element is what is really bothering some conservatives, then they can craft a bill that would reverse the order of some of its provisions. But what they seem to be saying is that any measure that cannot guarantee a hermetically sealed border or magically prevent those who come here legally but then overstay their visas from doing so is unacceptable. That, like Mitt Romney’s infamous “self-deportation” idea, is not a serious position.

Nor am I convinced that it is now a core conservative principle that any large compromise bill on any measure must be stopped. Liberals who have pointed out that conservatives were ready to make compromises of all sorts to defend policy measures that were important to them in the past, like tax cuts, are right. Unless we are to adopt a parliamentary style of government in which the majority can more or less pass anything they like so long as the whip is out without the constitutional checks and balances of our system, compromises on big issues are always going to be necessary. Any idea that passage of separate House bills that are not necessarily compatible with each other, let alone capable of Senate passage, is a rational plan is daft.

But those House members who appear determined to ignore the pleadings of Boehner and Ryan are not so much being influenced by the intellectual arguments mustered by Kristol and Lowry as they are the fear of offending those who think any solution to the 11 million illegals that offers legalization and/or citizenship is an offense to the rule of law or a threat to the future of the culture of the nation. Kristol and Lowry don’t use the word “amnesty” to characterize the gang’s bill, but most opponents of the bill do. The fixation on punishing or getting rid of the present population of illegals leaves the impression that malice is driving the discussion. So long as conservatives are heard to argue that the bill is a formula for the creation of more Democratic voters or a plot by the Obama administration to permanently marginalize the GOP, Hispanics and many other Americans are likely to interpret opposition to reform as an appeal to nativist sentiment, not a policy prescription.

I think Kristol and Lowry are wrong about the urgency of the matter not so much because we can’t live with a long-broken system for another few years but because the longer so many Republicans give the country the impression that they fear immigration—legal or illegal—they will be harming their image in a manner that will go beyond the putative impact on the Hispanic vote.

A lot of leading conservatives seem to think that they can’t survive if they oppose the net roots on this issue, and perhaps there is some truth to that. Boehner would probably lose his speakership if he allows a vote on the reform bill or anything like it that is produced in the House. It’s also possible that getting labeled as RINOs or establishment cat’s-paws will damage individuals and institutions that agree with conservatives like Ryan, George W. Bush and Marco Rubio that an immigration compromise is the right thing to do as well as good politics for the GOP. But the failure to deal with this issue will do conservatism far more harm in the long run than those who believe it can wait until a Republican president or Senate arrives in Washington think. If the GOP listens to the naysayers, it may be a long wait before either of those outcomes arrives.

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