To fill the vacuum created by Eric Cantor’s sudden defeat as House Majority Leader, the Republican House Caucus will meet today behind closed doors to elect a new majority whip and majority leader. While the majority leader position looks to follow a natural line of succession, the race is heated for the whip spot and highlights the interior fault lines of the Republican base, as Tea Party elements camp contrapositive to an “establishment” core. Illustrating that party politics are not always about the other party, the race reveals that sometimes Republicans get to decide what it means to be Republican in an election that the electorate never touches. It is an unusual set of circumstances allowing for an interesting look at the interior dynamics and evolving values of a political party founded 160 years ago.
The GOP has lagged behind Democrats in strategy, focus, and effectiveness for much of the past six years. At almost every turn, it’s seemed Republicans could not come together and tell their story.
That changed last month when Republican David Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink by two points in a closely contested special election for Florida's 13th Congressional District. The election was more than a good night; it was a turning of the tide. In Jolly’s victory, Republicans found an effective new strategy for the future that used—as the saying goes—something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.
Something Old and Something New
The four-year-old Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, has become political kryptonite. The strong dislike for the law has continued to drive down the president’s approval ratings. Obama made no campaign ads or visits to support Sink. However, while Sink’s mere affiliation with Obamacare hurt her chances, it was not the sole cause of her defeat.
Earlier today, Ben Brophy questioned the wisdom of congressional Republicans sitting on their hands and letting Obamacare do their electoral work for them. Peter Suderman, in evaluating the speeches at CPAC, had a similar observation:
Yet even as the parade of GOP bright lights affirmed support for a positive vision backed by productive policy ideas, most seemed to struggle to define that vision, or talk clearly about what those ideas should be. The GOP has decided that it should probably stand for something—yet aside from electing more Republicans, it’s still not sure what, exactly, that is.
Debate over solutions to poverty has been dominating American politics as of late. Predictably, Democrats have harped on income inequality and have pushed for extensions in unemployment benefits and an increase in the federal minimum wage. Conservatives, in response, have thankfully done more than just voice opposition to these stock, unimaginative policy prescriptions. In fact, since last year, several prominent figures from the Republican ranks, as well as a number of other conservative leaders, have proposed fresh ideas and positive solutions to combat poverty in America.
However, some remain unconvinced. Some, like Steve Patrick Ercolani at The Guardian, see only malicious intent in GOP attempts to fight poverty. This past Monday, Ercolani made the remarkably outrageous—yet unfortunately unsurprising—claim that Republicans are making a big to-do about poverty only because those who are poor are increasingly white.
In a piece worth reading, Peter Beinart of The Atlantic takes a look at what he sees as the fall and rise of the term "liberal." Beinart describes how the label, once proudly worn by New Dealers, fell out of favor with the cultural tumult of the 1960s:
Over the next two decades, being a liberal came to mean letting criminals terrorize America’s cities, hippies undermine traditional morality, and communists menace the world. It meant, in other words, too much liberty for the wrong kind of people. Fearful of its negative connotations, Democratic politicians began disassociating themselves from the term...
This year is shaping up to be a good one for the right. Barack Obama is arguably at the nadir of his presidency. Obamacare is collapsing and vindicating Republicans in the process. The GOP’s chances of taking back the Senate, while far from air-tight, are trending positive.
President Barack Obama isn’t expected to spend much time on deficit reduction and entitlement reform during Tuesday’s State of the Union address, instead focusing on issues such as economic inequality and raising the minimum wage that will be the centerpiece of his 2014 agenda.
Republicans don’t want to divert attention from Obamacare and plan to demand changes in the health care law, not spending cuts, in exchange for a debt-limit increase next month. They dismiss grand bargain talks with Obama as fruitless.
Yesterday, while speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council meeting (and skipping an event commemorating the Gettysburg address) President Obama suggested that Republicans share some of the blame for the Affordable Care Act’s troubles.
“One of the problems we’ve had is one side of Capitol Hill is invested in failure,” Obama said at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council meeting in Washington. “We obviously are going to have to remarket and rebrand, and that will be challenging in this political environment.”
The president also voiced frustration with the toxic political atmosphere endangering his signature legislative achievement. He said Washington needs to “break through the stubborn cycle of crisis politics and start working together.”
“Snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” is not only a cliché; it seems to have been the Republican political strategy for the past few elections. Even more disturbingly, it seems like their strategy when dealing with the most epic governmental failures of Obamacare.
By now, one doesn’t have to explain how bad the Obamacare rollout has been. However, the human cost is still unknown, and everyone sees the train wreck coming. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu has proposed a bill that lets people keep their current health plans, and today Republican Rep. Fred Upton—yes, the same brilliant mind that gave us the incandescent light bulb ban—is presenting his “Keep Your Health Plan Act” to the House. Speaker John Boehner has described this plan as part of the overall GOP strategy to fight Obamacare.
It's more than just his 180º on the incandescent light bulb. The representative from Michigan's 6th District really wants the Energy and Commerce Committee chairmanship. Just look at what's posted on his Congressional web page:
POLITICO: Fortifying Our Energy Security
December 6, 2010
On 50th Anniversary of ANWR, Upton Urges President to Open Vast Reserves
December 6, 2010
THE DAILY CALLER: Rep. Upton urges President Obama to open ANWR
December 6, 2010
THE DAILY CALLER: Now is the time to slash subsidies (for renewables)
December 3, 2010
THE HILL: Upton probes Interior's offshore oil permitting, warns against delays
December 3, 2010
Upton Calls On EPA for Greater Transparency Over Potentially Devastating Cooling Water Regulations
December 3, 2010
DES MOINES REGISTER: Possible House energy chief slams subsidies
Dec 3, 2010
As House Republicans have planned to assume control in January, the biggest debate about chairmanships has been over who will manage the Energy and Commerce Committee, with Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan next in line in seniority. But many conservatives object because of some of his past votes, which included one for a ban on offshore drilling in Florida and the Great Lakes and another in opposition to an extension of the Bush tax cuts on capital gains and dividends. There were others, not the least of which was his cosponsorship of the bill that led to the ban of the incandescent light bulb.
Now, according to the Washington Times, Upton says his mind has been illuminated by those who object to that ban: