mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Nothing Less Than Total War Will Suffice”: Why Republicans Will Face The Same Disaster No Matter Who They Crown Speaker

Liberals and conservatives can agree on one thing about departing Speaker of the House John Boehner: He was terrible at his job.

Liberals look at how Boehner was yanked around by the reactionary extremists in his party, kept staging showdowns that never got the GOP any of what it sought, and couldn’t unify his caucus for anything more meaningful than 50 futile votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and say, “What a loser.” Conservatives look at how he failed to actually repeal the Affordable Care Act (or anything else), blinked when he stared down President Obama, and generally failed to “stand up” tall enough to cut the administration down to size, and think, “What a wimp.”

They may both be right, at least in part. But what Republicans probably don’t realize is that their next speaker probably won’t be able to do any better — not now, and not after the next president is elected.

Right now Republicans in the House are in the process of picking that speaker, and it has turned into a real contest. Up until a week ago it was assumed that Kevin McCarthy, Boehner’s second-in-command, would waltz into the job. But after he said what everyone knows to be true — that the purpose of the select committee on Benghazi is to do political damage to Hillary Clinton — Republicans whispered “Ixnay on the ooth-tray!” and began looking around for an alternative (it’s amazing what an effect one ill-considered remark can have). Into that breach stepped Jason Chaffetz, a young conservative from Utah who has been seen as an up-and-comer, but nobody thought would be contending for this job so soon.

Unlike any speaker in memory, neither McCarthy nor Chaffetz has been in Congress very long. McCarthy is in his fifth term, and Chaffetz is in his fourth (Boehner and his predecessor Nancy Pelosi had each served 10 terms before becoming speaker). Neither one of them is known as some kind of legislative wizard with the ability to keep his caucus together and shepherd difficult bills through the Congress. That’s partly because they haven’t had the chance, but the truth is it won’t matter.

Think about what the next speaker of the House is going to spend his time doing. Between now and January 2017, the answer is, not much. Boehner is hoping to strike a two-year budget deal on his way out that would mean no more threatened government shutdowns between now and the election, essentially saving the Republican Party from its own representatives in the House. If he succeeds, the next speaker will spend his time bringing up symbolic votes to satisfy the party’s right wing, and maybe starting a new investigation or two (the Select Committee on Why Hillary Clinton Is a Jerk, perhaps?). But he won’t be passing any actual legislation.

That’s because the tea partiers who helped push Boehner out and whose assent is needed for the next speaker to win the office don’t want any legislating, and they don’t want any deal-making. This was what Boehner discovered, to his endless dismay. For that portion of the caucus, many of whom got elected since 2010, nothing less than total war against the opposition will suffice. That war isn’t something you do in order to achieve a policy victory, it’s the whole point of being in Congress in the first place. The measure of success is whether you “stood up” with sufficient strength and resolve, not whether you actually accomplished anything.

If a Democrat becomes president in 2016, that will not change. The vast majority of those House members come from safe Republican seats; the only way they’ll leave is if they lose a primary to someone even more doctrinaire. So we’d have four more years of what we’ve had lately: an endless stalemate punctuated by the occasional crisis, accompanied by conservative cries that the GOP leadership is weak and ineffectual.

And what if a Republican wins the 2016 election? Although it might seem like it would be an orgy of bill-passing as Republicans finally get the chance to do whatever they want without fear of a presidential veto, it might turn out not to be so easy, and not only because Democrats could still filibuster bills in the Senate. Remember how complicated it was for Barack Obama to pass the stimulus, Wall Street reform, and the Affordable Care Act? That was when he had large majorities in both houses. They got a great deal done, but it was a struggle every step of the way.

When your party can ostensibly pass whatever laws it wants, intra-party divisions come to the fore as members try to shape the legislation to their liking and realize that they can extract concessions by being difficult. When there’s actually a real accomplishment in the offing — let’s say a tax cut, or a big increase in military spending, or a restriction on abortion rights — the obstruction of a few members can have real consequences, and that will give every rump faction the ability to extort real concessions to whatever it is they want. The caucus could be riven by divisions between the extremely conservative members and the incredibly conservative members, in which case you’d need a speaker with some deal-making skills.

And in that period of 2009 to 2010, Democrats in Congress were led (and still are) by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, strong leaders with decades of legislative experience who understood how to corral and move the caucuses they led. Republicans may not like them, but nobody thinks they aren’t very good at what they do, particularly Pelosi. On the Republican side you might say the same about Mitch McConnell in the Senate, but would Kevin McCarthy or Jason Chaffetz be able to be as effective a leader in keeping their caucus together as Pelosi has been? Now consider that the Republican House can’t stay together when it has zero chance of passing anything into law. Just imagine what a mess it will be when there’s actually something at stake.

I could be wrong, but I’d be surprised if either McCarthy or Chaffetz is talking a lot to their colleagues about the complexities and difficulties 2017 and beyond could pose with a Republican president, and how their particular skills and experience will help them navigate that minefield. If they are, then they’re more forward-looking than I imagine.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, October 6, 2015

October 7, 2015 - Posted by | Conservatives, House Republican Caucus, John Boehner | , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Anything meaningful will likely require more moderate Republicans and Democrats, as it does know.

    Like

    Comment by Keith | October 7, 2015 | Reply


Share your comment

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: