Political Hay

House GOP: Reagans or Fords?

Obamacare defunding battle erupts in GOP “civil war.”

By 9.17.13

Send to Kindle

Here we go again.

Over at the Hill this weekend, a report surfaces that House Republicans are in the middle of what is described as a “civil war” over the defunding of Obamacare.

This civil war features House Republicans like Georgia Republican Tom Graves and those who, agreeing with Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz, want to defund ObamaCare -- versus those who are terrified at the notion they will be blamed for “shutting down the government.”

It has launched the usual handwringing from the usual “conservative” media suspects, notably the New York Times’ columnist from Canada through New York, David Brooks. Mr. Brooks took to his usual perch on PBS to warn of “the rise of Ted Cruz-ism.” Let’s go to the transcript (bold print for emphasis):

DAVID BROOKS: What's going on in the House, and a bit in the Senate, too, is what you might call the rise of Ted Cruz-ism.

And Ted Cruz, the senator from Canada through Texas, is basically not a legislator in the normal sense, doesn't have an idea that he's going to Congress to create coalitions, make alliances, and he is going to pass a lot of legislation. He's going in more as a media protest person.

And a lot of the House Republicans are in the same mode. They're not normal members of Congress. They're not legislators. They want to stop things. And so they're just being -- they just want to obstruct.

And the second thing they're doing, which is alarming a lot of Republicans, is they're running against their own party. Ted Cruz is running against Republicans in the Senate. The House Republican Tea Party types are running against the Republican establishment. That's how they're raising money. That's where they're spending their money on ads.

And so they're having a very obstructive role which is going on this week, and I think it's going to make John Boehner's life even more difficult.

Mr. Brooks is not alone in this attitude. As the summer unspooled, this or that GOP moderate in and out of the media popped up to make some form of the same argument. The issue is reaching a fever pitch as described here in the same Hill story: 

House leaders hatched a complicated plan that would have required the Senate to vote on defunding ObamaCare, but the bill was immediately shot down by Tea Party members and conservative groups. Lacking the votes, a vote on the legislation was canceled last week.

Now, rank-and-file Republican members are worried on how the House GOP will avoid government shutdown at the start of October. They say that a shutdown could provide an opening for Democrats to win back the House majority.”

Yet another Hill story reports specifics: 

Conservative advocacy groups on Friday lined up behind new legislation in the House to defund ObamaCare.

The Club For Growth, FreedomWorks, ForAmerica and the Tea Party Patriots all endorsed a bill from Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) that would tie a one-year delay in the healthcare law to funding for the government.

"Republicans, Democrats and Independents are united in opposition to this horrible piece of legislation and momentum is building to stop it,’" Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a statement.

The endorsements could embolden conservatives who are pushing the risky legislative strategy of using the threat of a government shutdown to stop President Obama's healthcare law from taking effect.

Graves's bill drew 42 Republican co-sponsors when he introduced it Thursday — a clear sign of the difficulty GOP leaders face as they try to avert a shutdown while retaining their anti-ObamaCare bona fides. 

Jenny Beth Martin, the national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, said she commended Graves for his “valiant effort to defund ObamaCare through 2015.” 

"The Tea Party Patriots supports this bill and demands that House ‘leadership’ stop the gimmicks and get behind it too," Martin said in a statement.

Let’s clear some of the fog.

What is going on here is nothing but the latest battle in the ongoing decades-old war between GOP conservatives and the GOP “me-too” crowd. The names change, the nature of the war never changes.

Call this Reagan versus Ford, round two zillion and one 

Moderates -- as witness the Brooks remarks -- have never met a ratchet left that wasn’t good enough to support.

Take another look at the Brooks remarks:

And a lot of the House Republicans are in the same mode. They're not normal members of Congress. They're not legislators. They want to stop things. And so they're just being -- they just want to obstruct.

Now let’s ask some questions.

Notice the underlying Brooks assumption? “They want to stop things.”

See how the game works? To “stop things” -- which is to say, to refuse to allow the government to turn another ratchet left -- is a bad thing. It is “to obstruct.” Moving left, whether in an Obama gallop or by a David Brooks degree, is never at question. The only question is the speed at which the country is moved left. Moving the government and the country right -- which supposedly is the stated goal of the Republican Party, a goal that has at its core limited government -- means “they’re not legislators.” To move right is “to obstruct.”

At this point in American history the very phrase “middle ground” has become synonymous with moving left. The late Sir Keith Joseph, the influential conservative intellectual in Parliament at the side of Margaret Thatcher, long ago correctly explained the difference between “the middle ground” and “the common ground.” The middle ground “moved continuously to the left by its own internal dynamic,” the very exemplar of the collectivist consensus. The middle ground “created not prospects but crisis. Far from saving the public sector, it had gone a long way towards destroying it. Far from achieving social harmony and strengthening the center, it has created resentment and conflict.” 

The “common ground” -- as opposed to the “middle ground” -- was where conservatives should be headed, and he was always patient in explaining the difference. The UK’s Independent summed up Joseph’s point in this fashion at his death in 1994, bold print for emphasis mine:

Joseph also distinguished between the common ground, an area on which there was general agreement between the parties and which voters accepted, and the middle ground, a point midway between the policies of the Labour and Conservative parties. He complained that Labour gave a turn of the ratchet to socialism each time it was in office and that this was then accepted by the next Conservative government. But each Labour move to the left forced the Conservatives to adjust to a more left-wing middle ground. This analysis of the ‘socialist ratchet’ greatly impressed Thatcher and reinforced her own detestation of so-called consensus politics.

The fight to defund Obamacare is a pluperfect example of what Joseph called the “socialist ratchet.” Obamacare has, at a gallop, taken the already leftist American health care system and raced it even further left. What David Brooks’ comments are illustrating, and what Senator Cruz, Congressman Graves, conservative GOP House members, and groups like the Tea Party are fighting, is yet another turn of that “socialist ratchet”.

A turn that always -- always -- goes in only one direction: to the left. 

American conservatives are long since onto this game. This is what Ronald Reagan was talking about in December of 1976 when he spoke of the GOP Establishment -- and he specifically meant then-just-defeated President Gerald Ford -- as having made of the party a “fraternal order” when, in Reagan’s view, it must be “something where people are bound together by a shared philosophy.” The headline on that news story in the New York Times, by the way, was this:

Reagan Urges His Party to Save Itself By Declaring Its Conservative Beliefs

How does this translate to today’s battle to defund Obamacare?

It means that the “civil war” described in that article in the Hill is today’s version of the battle between Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford -- or in British terms, between Margaret Thatcher and the Gerald Ford of British politics, the Conservative ex-prime minister Edward Heath.

Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh went on at length about this latest battle between the Reagan and Ford wings of the GOP. This being Rush Limbaugh, Rush was exactly understanding of the reason for what he called the “all-out assault” on Senator Cruz by David Brooks and Washington Establishment Republicans. “Why don’t you switch parties?” El Rushbo challenged Brooks. He added that “the Republican Establishment needs to be undermined” if it is all about throwing in with the Democrats.

Bravo to Rush.

Over at Sean Hannity’s radio domain Hannity has been saying for weeks that defunding Obamacare has to be the dividing line for House Republicans.

And, of course, while Mark Levin has not used the term the “socialist ratchet” in his bestselling The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic the entire reason for the book in the first place is because of the socialist ratchet, which of course has everything to do with socialism and nothing to do with the Constitution. 

What Georgia Republican Congressman Tom Graves and his 42 House Republican co-sponsors are about is grabbing hold of the on-automatic-pilot-leftward-ratcheting machinery and stopping it from one more ratchet left. Not even stopping it period. Just stopping it from one more ratchet leftward. Recall that Graves’ bill ties “a one-year delay in the healthcare law to funding for the government.” Which is to say, Graves and his colleagues understand the power of political leverage -- which is the only wrench conservatives have to grab hold and bring the machinery to a momentary halt.

Not destroying the machinery -- hardly that. Simply stopping it from merely slipping a single notch more to the left.

Jenny Beth Martin and the Tea Party Patriots understand this. So too do Freedom Works and the Club for Growth understand this. For America’s Brent Bozell understands this when he says

"Congressman Graves’ proposal to defund ObamaCare through 2015 is the best plan we have seen to prevent this law from taking hold," ForAmerica Chairman Brent Bozell said in a statement.

One of things that used to drive Reagan crazy were congressional Republicans who refused to fight because they were afraid of losing. A while back we cited Reagan’s disgust with House Republicans who refused to back him up on a pork laden so-called Clean Water bill in 1987. Only 20 Republicans had the courage to stand behind Reagan’s veto, heedless of Reagan’s wisdom that even in the face of certain defeat it was critically important to draw a bright line between Republicans and Democrats so that the American people would understand the difference between the two parties.

Today, there are House Republicans out there showing that this timid mindset is still alive and well in the House GOP Caucus.

This quote from Ohio Republican Patrick Tiberi is typical of what Reagan scorned as the mindset of House GOP “rabbits”:

“Find me 60 votes in the Senate. That’s what I would say. I’m with them philosophically — completely. But show me how you get 60 votes in the Senate. That’s the key.”

With all due respect to Congressman Tiberi, that is exactly not the key. The key is to stand on principle. To show the American people that you are willing to stand on that principle. To illustrate as vividly as you can that the last thing America needs is another leftward turn of what Sir Keith called the “socialist ratchet” and what both Reagan and Thatcher saw as the “collectivist consensus.” 

To sum up? 

What is going on here is old -- very old.

As mentioned, to clarify in the simplest of terms, the “civil war” between House Republicans and in the Senate GOP caucus as well is a battle between Reagan Republicans and Ford Republicans.

Between those who understand that the Graves bill is but one small yet necessary attempt to stop the leftward turning of the socialist ratchet. And those who, fearing the loss of their own House or Senate seat or losses in general, refuse to stand and fight.

The irony?

As history shows, it was Reagan who won the battle -- not Gerald Ford.

Reagan’s historic status as a great American president -- and to the point here his considerable political success in the day -- is precisely related to the fact that he never hesitated to draw a bright line separating himself from his opponents, GOP moderates included. 

Running from the fight is exactly the wrong thing to do.

After decades of this battle, one would think that there is an understanding that the certain path to defeat for House Republicans is abandoning and hence angering their own base. Can Democrats take back the House in 2014? Of course they can -- if the GOP’s conservative base simply refuses to show up and vote. It happened in 2006 -- and it can happen again. The reason the GOP won the House in 1994 (for the first time in forty years) and took it back again in 2010 was not because they pledged acquiescence to the next turning of the socialist ratchet -- but because they pledged to fight to stop it come hell or high water.

What Ted Cruz and Tom Graves and a handful of others are about is to stop the next turn of the socialist ratchet. 

Will they get help? Or not?

Stay tuned for the latest battle between the Reagan and Ford wings -- the winning and losing wings -- of the Republican Party.

The choice is simple 

Are House Republicans a fraternal order?

Or will House Republicans unite and stand up -- win or lose -- to oppose the latest turn of the socialist ratchet?

Knowing that sometimes to lose -- is to win.

Photo: UPI

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.