Staggering, without direction, not quite dead and in search of brains, the Republican Party is giving a really good performance as the Zombie Party. According to the media’s current narrative, it has to rid itself of the Tea Party’s influence or die.
That narrative tells us the state of the Party is entirely the fault of conservatives, Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee in particular. They — with Cruz’s filibuster — led Republicans into a battle they couldn’t win. If only the House Republicans had gone along with the strategy of the Republican Establishment, they’d have come out of the latest round of crises stronger than they’ve been since, well, we’re not sure when.
If conservatives had obeyed their betters, there would be a chicken in every driveway and a piece of Ted Cruz in every pot. Or at least that’s what the media narrative — propelled by the Republican establishment and the Dems — would have us believe.
There are a few problems with that narrative. To dissect it, we need to be energetic in a way we can only feel if we’re really angry. Anger and frustration are permitted here. Whining is not. And context is important.
The context of the current round of crises — and the temporary solution to them — is that President Obama has never yet been compelled to compromise. Not on Obamacare, not on tax rates, not on individual budgetary items or overall spending. Heaven forbid that any government spending be limited. On none of those things will Obama bargain. He simply won’t negotiate any compromise, so Republicans have spent the past two years trying to find a way to force him to negotiate with them.
And they have failed. Problem One with the Republican establishment’s narrative is that they — the leaders of the House and Senate Republicans and their allies — haven’t come up with any strategies that have succeeded in forcing Obama to bargain a compromise. If they had a better idea than Ted Cruz’s filibuster, we’ve yet to hear it.
We’ve seen this movie again and again. In the so-called “supercommittee” exercise of 2011, the Republicans were negotiating with themselves, not with Obama or even his congressional cohort. There was no negotiation or compromise in the 2012 “fiscal cliff” crisis or the twin debt ceiling and government shutdown crises this month. And there was no Establishment Republican strategy to even oppose Obama, far less to compel him to compromise.
After those sad experiences, it’s absolutely clear that the Republican establishment leadership — House Speaker John Boehner, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Boehner’s “leadership team” and senators like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and the others opposed to Ted Cruz’s filibuster — have proven themselves incapable of devising any strategy that will rein in government spending or put a dent in Obamacare.
The Republican Establishment has nothing to offer other than their demand that conservatives keep silent. They are apparently content to let Obama continue to ravage our economy and destroy our power to influence events in other nations. Yet conservatives in the House joined with their weak sisters in giving Speaker Boehner a standing ovation when the deal to reopen the government was passed.
And that’s the root of the problem. Boehner can fail and still be lavishly praised.
The Republican establishment isn’t only similar to the media and the Dems because they’re totally uncomfortable with conservatives. The other disabling factor is that the Republican establishment isn’t uncomfortable with big government. George W. Bush, the oxymoronic “big government conservative,” saw to that. The only difference between the Republican establishment and the hyper-liberal Obama establishment is a minor disagreement on the size of big government.
Congressional leaders have two big responsibilities: first, to craft strategies to control or influence legislation so that it will implement Republican principles; second, to persuade their fellow Republicans to unify around those strategies. If they cannot perform either of those jobs, it’s time to replace them.
There are a lot of inhabitants of Congress who will want to give these leaders another chance. They will whine that Obama is a political powerhouse, that Republicans only have “one half of one-third of the government” so a better outcome is a pipe dream.
How many times will they be allowed to fail and not suffer the consequences?
Obama is a powerful and skillful pol, but he’s not unbeatable in every battle. Why should Republicans treat him as if he were? By their repeated failure Republicans have trained Obama and his congressional allies to expect Republicans to roll over. Obama and Harry Reid have no expectation of different conduct in the future. The congressional leadership has already eschewed future government shutdowns. What else is there but surrender?
That’s the job of the leaders to figure out. If they can’t they need to be replaced. Obama doesn’t live on Mount Olympus: he’s just at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
At this point, the Republicans look like they’re content to just wait Obama out. But he’s got three and a quarter more years in his term. If Republicans give up on opposing him — which is what they seem to be doing — they are well and truly finished as a political party. We will have seen the last Republican president in our lifetimes, perhaps ever. And that’s a fate the Republicans would deserve, but we would not.
At this point in a column, I’d always shift to a “what’s to be done to fix this mess” theme. But there’s no hidden magical solution to cure the Republicans of their zombie-like state of failure. Yes, Republicans can go back to the grass roots and try to energize the Tea Party to be like the Tea Party when it created itself in the summer of 2009 when townhall meetings erupted everywhere in opposition to Obamacare. Yes, Republicans can go back to their wayward supporters in what used to be the conservative media and give them a kick in the pants.
But wait a minute. Who are these “Republicans” we’re talking about who have the ability to stand up to their few allies in the media, who can ask the Tea Party members eager to hear from them to rally the grass roots to action? I can’t think of a single one. The Republicans have only the same people saying the same things and telling us that they’d fix everything if it weren’t for those problem conservatives.
Before Republicans can energize the Tea Party, before they can do anything to craft legislative strategies to turn back Obama’s tide, Republicans have to be unified around a central ideological theme. They haven’t had an ideological candidate since Reagan. And they have to have a Party that isn’t dominated by the liberal Washington Republican establishment. That’s not going to happen as long as the money people make up that same liberal establishment.
Republican unity, therefore, is not going to happen at least before Obama leaves office and perhaps not even then. Republican unity only happens when there is a person — a presidential candidate or at least a strong congressional leader — to unify around. Maybe it’s Ted Cruz. And maybe it’s not.
But we know someone like that is out there. There’s some political Thomas Edison who can invent a light bulb strategy to generate light and heat in the wilderness we’ll be living in for at least another three years.
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