The GOP Shouldn’t Run a Fool’s Errand

GOP lawmakers who want to shut down the government or impeach President Obama are just plain dumb.

Federal workers hold a demonstration outside the State Department in Washington Wednesday Jan. 3, 1995 to protest the partial federal government shutdown. House Republican leaders dismissed a Senate plan that would send idled federal workers back to work. President Clinton and Republican leaders have scheduled another White House bargaining session Wednesday in their search for a budget-balancing pact. 
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Charlie Cook
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Charlie Cook
Aug. 28, 2013, 1:17 p.m.

With all of the talk among some Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress about im­peach­ment and shut­ting down the gov­ern­ment to stop Obama­care or force en­ti­tle­ment-spend­ing cuts, you’d think that they were liv­ing in an­oth­er real­ity back in the 1990s. Re­pub­lic­ans were pur­su­ing sim­il­ar mis­sions then, and things didn’t work out so well for the GOP. For those in need of a quick his­tory les­son, all you need to know is that Re­pub­lic­ans man­aged to lose House seats in the midterm elec­tions of 1998. It was the only time since World War II that the party in the White House (Demo­crats) gained seats in a second-term, midterm elec­tion. Talk about seiz­ing de­feat from the jaws of vic­tory!

Ob­vi­ously, the people and policy par­tic­u­lars are dif­fer­ent now, but the sim­il­ar­it­ies are ob­vi­ous. At that time, the loath­ing of Pres­id­ent Clin­ton was so great, the emo­tions were so high, and the be­lief was so firm that their cause was right­eous that Re­pub­lic­ans could not con­ceive their ac­tions were ill-ad­vised. Blind hatred is a dan­ger­ous thing.

Of course, this isn’t to sug­gest that every Re­pub­lic­an in Con­gress today ad­voc­ates scorched-earth strategies and tac­tics. House Speak­er John Boehner and Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell don’t; not sur­pris­ingly, both men were in Con­gress dur­ing the 1990s. (Boehner was elec­ted in 1990, Mc­Con­nell in 1984.) They have ex­per­i­enced firsthand the danger of fol­low­ing the party’s right-wing base and con­gres­sion­al hot­heads over a polit­ic­al cliff. Both lead­ers clearly take a less-than-fa­vor­able view of the more ex­treme GOP rhet­or­ic today, but neither is quite in a po­s­i­tion to make those feel­ings known and to pub­licly de­clare how stu­pid this talk is. Boehner lives on ice that’s not quite thick enough to sup­port such bold­ness. Mc­Con­nell, mean­while, is thread­ing a 2014 reelec­tion needle in Ken­tucky: sat­is­fy­ing con­ser­vat­ives enough to avoid los­ing his primary to a tea-party op­pon­ent, but not veer­ing too far right to jeop­ard­ize win­ning what is shap­ing up to be a tough gen­er­al-elec­tion chal­lenge.

Talk­ing to Re­pub­lic­ans around Cap­it­ol Hill these days is very in­ter­est­ing. Mem­bers of one group seem well aware that their brand is badly dam­aged and des­per­ately needs re­hab­il­it­a­tion. Maybe they no­ticed the Fox News poll in which “Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress” scored ap­prov­al rat­ings of 24 per­cent in March, and 23 per­cent in both June and Au­gust, with dis­ap­prov­al rat­ings of 69 per­cent, 67 per­cent, and 66 per­cent, re­spect­ively. (By com­par­is­on, the same Fox polling showed Demo­crats with bad, but not quite as hor­rible, num­bers: 29 per­cent ap­prov­al, 63 per­cent dis­ap­prov­al in March; and 32 per­cent ap­prov­al, 60 per­cent dis­ap­prov­al in both the June and Au­gust polls.)

Re­pub­lic­ans in the second group, however, seem ob­li­vi­ous to the fact that their party has a prob­lem. The feel­ing among these mem­bers seems to be, “How can the Re­pub­lic­an Party or Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress have prob­lems? I got elec­ted (or reelec­ted) eas­ily.” Many don’t ap­pear to real­ize they rep­res­ent dis­tricts that Demo­crats are un­likely to win un­der any cir­cum­stances. They as­sume that be­cause they got elec­ted to the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives, their dis­tricts must be, more or less, rep­res­ent­at­ive of the coun­try as a whole.

Un­like the second group, the first group gets the joke. These mem­bers fully un­der­stand their party has real prob­lems with swing voters — more pre­cisely, with self-iden­ti­fied mod­er­ates and young, fe­male, and minor­ity voters — and that these groups, taken to­geth­er, rep­res­ent an enorm­ous ma­jor­ity of the elect­or­ate. Na­tion­ally, the GOP is un­der­per­form­ing among all of these groups. However, these head-in-the-sand Re­pub­lic­ans fear that ac­know­ledging the party’s elect­or­al prob­lems would in­cur the wrath of the GOP base, which con­siders such talk heretic­al.

The same tox­ic factors per­vaded Wash­ing­ton in the years after the 1994 Re­pub­lic­an wave elec­tion, cul­min­at­ing in the 1995-96 shut­downs of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, the 1998 House im­peach­ment of Clin­ton, and the ill-fated 1999 Sen­ate im­peach­ment tri­al. Re­pub­lic­ans came out on the los­ing end of all of those cata­strophes. Voters blamed them more than Demo­crats for the gov­ern­ment shut­downs, and while the pub­lic didn’t think much of Clin­ton’s per­son­al be­ha­vi­or, it wasn’t ready to throw him out of of­fice.

That’s why these fisc­al dead­lines com­ing in Oc­to­ber — the start of the fisc­al year on Oct. 1 with no spend­ing bills en­acted in­to law and the need to raise the debt ceil­ing some­time that month — are scary. I have no doubt that if you strapped Boehner and Mc­Con­nell down, in­jec­ted them with So­di­um Pentoth­al, and ad­min­istered a poly­graph test ask­ing wheth­er the hard-line strategies pro­posed by GOP true be­liev­ers make sense, each would say, “Of course not,” and pass with fly­ing col­ors. (For the chem­istry ma­jors out there, I know the ac­tu­al name is so­di­um thi­opent­al.)

But it’s not clear at all wheth­er these lead­ers, par­tic­u­larly Boehner, can per­suade some of their, say, “exot­ic” mem­bers to take a more prag­mat­ic ap­proach and work to­ward get­ting the best deal they can. My hunch is that even­tu­ally we will come to a deal, but the coun­try could weath­er some very in­ter­est­ing and po­ten­tially trau­mat­ic days, par­tic­u­larly in the fin­an­cial mar­kets, in the mean­time. That is not a good thing when we have a fra­gile eco­nomy and a lame-duck chair­man of the Fed­er­al Re­serve Board. Maybe we should all go back on va­ca­tion.

What We're Following See More »
CHINA OBJECTS
U.S. Destroyer Sails Close to Artificial Chinese Island
14 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

A Navy destroyer sailed within 12 miles of an artificial island built by China in the South China Sea, one of several such islands at the center of territorial disputes with other nearby nations. The U.S. called it a "freedom of navigation exercise." Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang "said China had lodged stern representations to the U.S over the patrol and that such moves were not conducive to peace and stability in the South China Sea."

Source:
MINIMUM 2 PERCENT GDP
Trump Tells NATO Countries To Pay Up
1 hours ago
BREAKING
OVER LEAKS
U.K. Police No Longer Sharing Manchester Info With U.S.
2 hours ago
THE LATEST
MANAFORT AND FLYNN
Russians Discussed Influencing Trump Through Aides
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers." The conversations centered around Paul Manafort, who was campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, former national security adviser and then a close campaign surrogate. Both men have been tied heavily with Russia and Flynn is currently at the center of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Source:
DAY BEFORE ELECTION
Montana House Candidate Charged With Assault
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Greg Gianforte, the Montana Republican candidate for the state's lone House seat, was cited for misdemeanor assault Wednesday night after he allegedly body-slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. Jacobs entered a room in which Gianforte was preparing to give an interview to Fox News, and asked Gianforte about the recently released CBO score on health care legislation, at which point, according to an account from Fox News's Alicia Acuna, Gianforte put both hands around Jacobs's neck and slammed him to the ground. The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office put out a statement saying there was probable cause for the citation but not the injuries required for it to be considered a felony. Gianforte's aide put out an erroneous statement saying Jacobs grabbed Gianforte by the wrist after aggressively putting a recorder in Gianforte's face.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login