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“The Battle For The Republican Party”: Just Another GOP Pity Party, Looking For Sympathy In All The Wrong Places

Imagine what would happen if:

•  The budget deal passes the Senate with a handful of Republicans;
•  Immigration reform passes the House and something is agreed upon by the Senate;
•  In 2014 the House lead expands;
•  All Senate incumbents defeat their right-wing challengers and the GOP takes the Senate;
•  If not a grand bargain, then a modest bargain with some entitlement reform is passed; and

•  One or more tea party favorites run in 2016 and lose decisively to a mainstream GOP nominee who wins the presidency.

Well, that would be a triumph of the center-right and the demise of the tea party, at least from an electoral and governance standpoint. It would reaffirm the GOP as a national, if not dominate, party. And it would move the national agenda significantly to the right since the GOP would hold both houses of Congress and the White House.

One can see, then, that what is of tremendous benefit to mainstream Republicans (and to the agenda of conservative reform) puts the tea party professionals  — those inside the Beltway right wingers who gain glory and make money by attacking Republicans and blocking legislative compromise — largely out of business. Sure, they remain active participants in electoral politics, even more active critics and occasional contributors to national policy debates, but they no longer have the influence to either elect or primary candidates. They become merely gadflies and kibitzers.

That is one possible scenario that plays out over the next few years. One can see how the interests of mainstream and tea party conservatives collide and why, for example, the recent budget deal was a threat to the latter. The enemy (not of conservatism) but of the right wingers who depend on controversy, resentment and defeat is center-right governance. Functional government of the center-right saps the interest in throwing the “traitors” out. It discourages primaries from the right. It dulls the interest of donors.

It is important to distinguish here between conservatives who largely embrace the modern Reagan and post-Reagan agenda (best exemplified these days by GOP governors) and right wingers, those whose volume is always turned to high, see politics as all-or-nothing, want to take the country back to the pre-New Deal or even pre-Progressive era, and aim to freeze the United States demographically by keeping immigrants out and socially by refusing to accept changed beliefs on topics like gay marriage. The entities and politicians (the Heritage Action, angry talk radio, Sen. Ted Cruz crowd) that populate the second group flourish when the GOP is in the minority, so defeat is their ally.

The contrast between the two groups is evident in the trajectory of Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), pre- and post-shutdown. His ideology didn’t change, but his tone, outlook and purpose sure did after he saw the destruction wrought by the shutdown. He moved from the group that relishes defeat and delights in spreading resentment to the group that wants to govern. I’d suggest in the wake of the shutdown, and now the budget deal, we will see more conservatives follow Lee’s lead.

Now, there is another scenario, maybe less likely but certainly possible over the next few years:

•  The budget deal passes the Senate with no Republicans;
•  Immigration reform never passes the House and nothing is agreed upon with the Senate;
•  In 2014 the House GOP lead stays the same or shrinks;
•  Some Senate incumbents defeat their right-wing challengers, but others do not and the GOP doesn’t take the Senate;
•  No bargains are struck for the remainder of the Obama term; and
•  One or more tea party favorites runs in 2016, one wins the nomination and loses decisively to Hillary Clinton while the GOP House majority is lost as well.

In that case we return to an era of Democratic rule and the GOP becomes a marginal player on the national scene. It is impossible, I would suggest, for the country to be governed mostly, let alone entirely, by the GOP if the tea party contingent triumphs within the GOP. The people who brought us the shutdown do not reflect the desires, outlook and views of a majority of the country. When presented with that alternative, the lion share of the country will choose the Democrats time and time again.

Which one will it be? It’s up to GOP office holders, candidates and voters.

By: Jennifer Rubin, Opinion Blogger, Right Turn; The Washington Post, December 16, 2013

December 18, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“All In The Dysfunctional Family”: Boehner’s Blasts, One More Volley In The Long GOP Battle

With a few words that reflected a mountain of frustration, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has escalated the ongoing struggle over the future of the Republican Party. Whether it proves to be a truly crystallizing moment for a party still trying to find its way after its defeat in 2012 is the critical question.

For much of the year, the Republican Party has been in a deep hole, its credibility diminished, its image at historical lows and its direction heavily influenced by conservative tea party insurgents and their allied outside groups. This fall’s government shutdown only made the hole deeper. Boehner seems to have decided it’s time to stop digging.

The speaker’s blast at outside groups that were calling for the defeat of the bipartisan budget agreement, even before it was unveiled, has reverberated widely. Among other things, Boehner declared that these organizations, which also advocated the strategy that led to the shutdown, have “lost all credibility” because of their extreme positions and incendiary tactics.

Boehner’s comments did not trigger a Republican civil war, as some have suggested. The reality is that the internal conflict has been underway for years. Mitt Romney’s loss to President Obama in the 2012 election intensified the debate, and those tensions will be front and center as the GOP heads toward a divisive round of primary elections next year and then a potential battle royal when it picks a presidential nominee in 2016.

Both factions in the GOP’s ongoing struggle — those in the tea party wing and those in the establishment wing — have real grievances. Tea party insurgents have long viewed their congressional leaders as capitulating repeatedly over the years on tougher spending cuts. They see Obama’s Affordable Care Act as such an egregious expansion of big government that it prompted them to embrace a budget strategy this fall that had no chance of success.

This past week, with the bipartisan budget deal negotiated by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the tea party activists see one more example of the party’s refusal to do more to rein in government. The fact that the agreement could spare all members of Congress — and the public — repeated reruns of budgetary standoffs and shutdown threats (likely political losers for the GOP) is not an adequate offset to them.

In terms of the presidency, many conservatives believe that the GOP has not nominated a true and authentic conservative for the job since Ronald Reagan. (Whether Reagan could win his party’s nomination today, given his gubernatorial record of raising taxes and expanding access to abortion, is another matter.) Neither Romney in 2012 nor John McCain in 2008 met their standards.

But it doesn’t stop there. Former president George W. Bush disappointed many in the party’s base who argue that he perpetuated Washington’s big spending ways. Former Senate majority leader Robert Dole, the party’s nominee in 1996, was derided by supply-side conservatives (among them former House speaker Newt Gingrich) as the “tax collector for the welfare state.”

Former president George H.W. Bush proved an apostate to tax-cutting conservatives for breaking his “no new taxes” pledge, an action that split his party in 1990. Conservatives such as Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, later recalled being elated when Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992, seeing his defeat as an opening to create a more-conservative party.

Now it’s Paul Ryan who is the disappointment. Ryan has been the intellectual leader of conservatives in the House and, more broadly, in his party. Now he is seen as something of a traitor to the cause for negotiating the bipartisan budget deal.

But the GOP establishment has its own list of grievances and is threatening to fight back. Establishment Republicans view the purity police on the right with disdain. They believe in big-tent Republicanism and pragmatism when it comes to governing.

They see the tea party movement writ large as a decidedly mixed blessing, a faction whose grass-roots energy is valued, but which also has engaged in a series of divisive primary battles. It’s arguable that the tea party cost the Republicans four or five Senate seats over the past two elections. Had most of those races gone the other way, Republicans would be at near-parity with Democrats in the upper chamber.

Establishment Republicans have special scorn for outside groups that are fueling the primary challenges and trying to dictate to members of Congress the strategies they should pursue. These groups include Heritage Action, the Senate Conservative Fund and the Club for Growth — the ones that drove the disastrous shutdown strategy and oppose the latest budget agreement.

A few months ago, Boehner made himself an agent of this strategy, and both he and his party paid a big price. This past week, when these groups called for defeat of the Ryan-Murray budget agreement, Boehner blew his stack.

Whether this was a well-thought-out plan to launch an attack or a spontaneous statement by a fed-up leader isn’t clear. Whatever it was, he was able to marshal a big majority of Republicans to support the agreement in the House, along with a sizable majority of Democrats. The partisan breakdown of the vote in the Senate is likely to look considerably different.

Establishment Republicans hope the tea party’s influence will diminish as a result of the shutdown debacle. That will depend in part on the tea party’s success in challenging a number of incumbent GOP senators next year, but there’s nothing right now to suggest its adherents are in retreat.

The announced opposition to the budget deal by three Republican senators who are prospective 2016 presidential candidates — Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas — suggests that they at least believe the tea party wing will continue to be a powerful force in charting the GOP’s direction.

GOP strategist John Feehery said the fact that so many Republicans voted for the budget agreement in the House was “hugely significant” and gives members an opportunity to begin to do some repair work. “It allows Congress to do its job,” he said. “They can get the appropriations process going, go home and talk about accomplishments and get their ratings above 10 percent.”

That could help in next year’s midterm elections, which will be influenced as much by Obama’s approval ratings, the state of the economy and judgments about the new health-care law as by the relative popularity of the Republican Party. But whether Boehner’s pushback marks a real turning point inside the party is another matter.

The business community has vowed to become more active in the intraparty battles, but their history of success is spotty. Conservative groups, fueled by some big donors and grass-roots energy, show no sign of pulling back, but will the fire burn as strongly as it has in the past?

In the absence of a consensus, and with both sides committed to the fight, the intraparty conflict will probably shift from the House and Senate floors to future elections. As one GOP strategist put it: “We’re in for a long, bloody conflict. Inside the family, we’re going to duke it out, and the place you duke it out is where you’re supposed to, which is at the ballot box.”


By: Dan Balz, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 14, 2013

December 16, 2013 Posted by | GOP, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Phony Civil War”: Nobody Here But Us Conservatives

Speaker John Boehner’s serial criticisms (yesterday in an NBC interview, today in a press conference) of conservative “outside groups” and their harassment of his own self and of House Republicans who do his bidding is getting massive media attention at the moment. Any minute now someone in the MSM is going to go over the brink and toast the Ohioan as the bravest man in American politics, a veritable colossus of strength and wisdom.

That’s all well and good; best I can tell Boehner got through both outbursts without weeping, and it is nice to see him not crawling on his belly like a reptile when it comes to Heritage Action and other right-wing bully boys. You kinda get the feeling, moreover, that Boehner was behind the firing of Republican Study Committee staff director Paul Teller, which has people in the “outside” groups and the allied blogospheric precincts freaking out.

But the Teller brouhaha is a reminder that this whole “war” between Boehner and “the groups” is pretty much inside baseball, and about Boehner’s role as Republican tactician rather than any deep matter of ideology or principle. And anyone who wants to lionize Boehner as some sort of “moderate” or even “pragmatist” free of ideological fervor should heed his own words in today’s press conference:

Asked if he was officially saying “no” to the tea party, Boehner emphasized the deficit reduction achieved under the budget deal and said there was no reason to oppose it.

“I came here to cut the size of government,” he said. “That’s exactly what this bill does, and why conservatives wouldn’t vote for this or criticize the bill is beyond any recognition I could come up with.”

Boehner also defended his own commitment to conservative principles, which has repeatedly come under fire. This criticism has at times threatened his speakership when he has attempted to negotiate with President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.

“I say what I mean and I mean what I say,” he said. “I’m as conservative as anybody around this place.”

Can you imagine Harry Reid, who occasionally gets criticized by the left, saying “I’m as liberal as anybody around this place”? No, you can’t.

So even this “act of war” between Boehner and “the groups” needs to be understood for what it is: an argument over strategy and tactics and operational control rather than goals and ideology. So progressives shouldn’t go too far in celebrating another battle in what I think is a phony “civil war,” or in exaggerating its effects.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 12, 2013

December 13, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, John Boehner, Tea Party | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There’s Only So Far You Can Follow Your Extremists”: Conservative Anger Over Budget Deal Now Purely To Save Face

Have we finally reached a point where the perpetual anger of Washington conservatives is no longer a threat to the republic? The budget deal announced yesterday suggests that it may well be, at least for the moment. It isn’t that conservatives aren’t raising a stink about it—they’re displeased that it doesn’t repeal the Affordable Care Act, slash Social Security and Medicare, and do more to punish food-stamp recipients, among other things—because they certainly are. Indeed, they were decrying it even before it was announced, which tells you how concerned they are about the details. But they seem to be just going through the motions. Send the press releases, say you’ll vote against it, tell Fox News why it doesn’t get to the real problems … and then we’ll all move on. The budget will pass, mostly because it averts the possibility of a government shutdown (at least over the budget, though not over the debt ceiling) for two more years. And even the most conservative Republican knows that’s a good thing for their party.

Just look at how John Boehner is acting. Boehner, who spent the entire period of the shutdown (and the weeks leading up to it) stepping gingerly around his party’s right wing as though it were a Bengal tiger that could rip his throat out with a single swipe if angered, now feels free to attack the likes of Heritage Action, obviously without concern that they can make him pay for his insolence:

At a press conference Wednesday, a visibly angry Boehner said conservative groups who oppose the two-year budget deal struck by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) are “using our members and they’re using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous.” Moments earlier, during a closed-door meeting, Boehner told House Republicans that the well-funded and influential organizations “aren’t acting out of principle, and they’re not trying to enact conservative policies. They’re using you to raise money and expand their own organization,” he said, according to a source in the room.

Those are some pretty strong words. Meanwhile, primary challenges to Republicans who have sinned against purity aren’t exactly looking formidable at the moment. Steve Stockman, who could well be the single nuttiest Republican in the House (and that’s saying something), is mounting a challenge to already extremely conservative Texas senator John Cornyn, one that will produce some moments of comedy but is almost certainly doomed. There are other primary challenges in progress to high-profile Republicans like Lindsey Graham, but most of those will probably fail as well.

That doesn’t mean that the Tea Party is irrelevant, or that events couldn’t conspire to renew their power and influence over the Republican party. For the moment, however, it does appear that the shutdown provided everyone in the GOP a valuable lesson: there’s only so far you can follow your extremists before they lead you off the cliff, and once you’ve plunged to the bottom, you don’t much want to climb back up and hurl yourself off again.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 11, 2013

December 12, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Conservatives | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Resolution To Disapprove”: By Voting Against Themselves, Republican’s Hope To Fool The Tea Party

On Tuesday, the Senate held a vote on a “resolution to disapprove” of raising the debt limit. The resolution failed 45-54. The 45 disapprovers were all Republicans. Twenty-seven of the Republicans voting to disapprove of raising the debt limit also voted, just a few weeks ago, to raise the debt limit. Do those 27 Republican senators disapprove of their own votes because raising the debt limit turned out to be a terrible mistake with disastrous consequences? No. They voted to disapprove of their own actions because a group of loud and angry people disapprove of their actions.

The face-saving “resolution to disapprove” measure seems to derive from a a 2011 McConnell idea that would have preserved the debt limit as a grandstanding ploy without actually risking default. In McConnell’s plan, the president would be allowed to increase the debt limit a little bit at a time, and Congress would then vote on whether to disapprove of the raises. It’s actually pretty brilliant politics, as it would have done two things:

  • Forced President Obama to raise the debt limit, which is always politically unpopular, three times in one (election) year.
  • Allowed every single Republican in Congress to vote against raising the debt limit without worrying that the U.S. would actually default.

Naturally, McConnell’s plan was declared rank RINOism and it went nowhere. This was in part because some conservatives believed that the plan removed the possibility of extracting massive concessions in exchange for raising the limit, but also because there simply are a lot of conservatives who oppose raising the limit at all, ever. The result of not listening to McConnell: Republicans had to vote to raise the debt limit anyway, conservatives now feel betrayed, right-wing Senate primary challenges are more likely, and non-far-right voters have more reason to be scared of allowing Republicans to govern.

Thus the meaningless symbolic vote of disapproval, in both chambers. The sorts of conservatives McConnell is hoping this stunt satisfies may be deluded enough to believe that breaching the debt ceiling wouldn’t be so bad, but they are not dumb enough to be impressed with this gesture. Most important, the people and organizations they get their information and take their cues from will not suddenly start praising these 27 senators, McConnell included, as True Conservatives.

At this point, it’s very easy to get on the wrong side of the activist conservative movement, and once you’re labeled a RINO, there’s almost nothing you can do to clear your name. John Boehner had to let the extremists take the whole country on Mr. Ted’s Wild Ride for a few weeks just to keep his job, and most Tea Party types still hate him. Sen. John Cornyn is in trouble for taking his signature off a petition.

And look at the sad tale of Marco Rubio, who, not long ago, was supposed to be a major contender for the “true conservative” vote in the 2016 Republican primaries. Then Rubio, like an idiot, actually listened to people more concerned with the long-term survival of the GOP than short-term symbolic victories and attached himself to the comprehensive immigration reform project. Activist conservatives hate immigration reform nearly as much as they hate Obamacare. Now, Rubio has abandoned his bill. He’s praised Cruz to the heavens and joined the vote against the deal to reopen the government, but the damage is done. Rubio has been tainted as a cooperator. In March, Rubio came in a close second to Rand Paul in the CPAC straw poll. In October, he received 5 percent — 35 votes out of 762 — in the Values Voters straw poll.

Symbolic gestures, like McConnell’s, and outright flip-flops, like Rubio’s, aren’t going to quiet or stop the conservative revolt. They might at least provide some sort of model for getting through this next year without it doing too much more damage. The government will have to fund itself. The debt ceiling will need to be raised again distressingly soon. The “resolution to disapprove” could be the way Congress passes everything from now on. Pass some sort of minor budget deal, then vote on the resolution disapproving of it. Pass the farm bill, hold the vote disapproving of it. Maybe try immigration reform again with a disapproval vote attached?

None of this will fool Erick Erickson and Heritage Action and the Senate Conservatives Fund and Freedomworks, but it might just allow terrified Republicans to convince themselves that it’s OK to take votes leadership wants them to take. You get to have a backsies!


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, October 30, 2013

October 31, 2013 Posted by | Republicans, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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