It’s certainly been…entertaining at times, to watch the nascent GOP intra-party civil war.
On the one hand, we have the Republicans in Congress and elsewhere who simply want to be in charge and to have their policies implemented. Ruthless up to a point, but within limits. The ones who are happy to go on “making sausage” as the old saw goes, with respect to legislation, policy, and budgets. In recent years, they don’t like to compromise, but they will when they’re forced to. Besides, it keeps the pork-barrel spending going.
There’s also a baseline sense of civil responsibility among many of them. I personally don’t like John McCain, but he seems to me to typify this type of Republican. He and others like him won’t refuse to participate in the government just because they can’t get 100% of what they want. Sure, there are lots of us who feel what the McCain Republicans want is unreasonable, ill-advised, and often plain wrong — but that’s what elections are about. Even they still respect those, to enough of a degree to make a difference and keep the whole country from falling apart.
Then there are the Tea Party Republicans. Not only do they hate anybody who isn’t them, half the time they can’t even agree on what it means to be an ideologically “pure” Tea Party member. Just witness the intra-party sniping over Senator Ted Cruz’s “Fauxlibuster” this past week. He really is not liked among most of his fellow GOP Senators, and if reports are to believed, they’re miffed that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid let Cruz be the public face of the Republican party for an entire news cycle.
The Tea Baggers, as I prefer to term them, using their own original name for themselves, actually don’t care about elections; all that matters is winning. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, outright theft of elections when it can be gotten away with — it’s all cool. The ends justify any and all means, to them. Losing an election also doesn’t matter; it’s just an obstacle to be overcome.
And their ends aren’t just unreasonable or ill-advised — they’re often monstrous. Like cutting food stamps. Or no disaster aid to stricken communities (especially if they didn’t vote GOP). Or insisting that the free market is just fine for poor, sick people without insurance. A lot of them will deny what they have in mind is a disaster in the making, but when you can get them to admit it, it’s like, “Yeah, that’s not a bug — it’s a feature.”
Irrationally, the Tea Baggers want the United States government to shut down and to default on its public debts. For some reason, they don’t think it’ll result in a global economic disaster that’d make the Great Depression look like a mild head-cold.
They advocate abolishing the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, the EPA, the FDA, gov’t funded research and development, the national parks and forest services — and yes, Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. (The fact the GOP 2012 platform includes lots of Tea Bagger proposals isn’t a coincidence either.) People suffering and dying from poisoned water or food, or because they don’t have the money to pay for healthcare or retirement isn’t just some unforeseen side-effect: It’s the goal.
It’s the core of the real Tea Party philosophy, as handed down from their plutocratic backers, such as the Koch Brothers: Being poor and powerless is to be deserving of punishment, suffering, and pain. To be poor is a sign of moral weakness; to be rich, is to be better than everyone else. To be rich and force the non-poor deep into soul-crushing serf-level poverty? Even better.
So anyway, we have the two sides of the Republican party. One that’s been increasingly difficult for the rest of us non-Republicans to get along with, and the other literally impossible for anyone to get along with. Including the non-crazy Republicans (and there are plenty of them… it’s just they’ve been marginalized and scared into silence).
There have been signs of this “if we can’t rule the Village, we must burn it to the ground” mentality dating all the way back to when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich shut down the Federal government in 1995-6 for 28 days over a budget impasse. Although President Clinton suffered a popularity hit during the shutdown and was initially blamed for it, public sentiment later shifted against Gingrich — and the GOP by extension, including the failed candidacy of Bob Dole for president. The Republicans were hammered pretty badly in the 1996 elections. Doubling down with the Clinton impeachment didn’t help.
Over the course of the last two decades, the extremist elements of the Republican party didn’t just become powerful: They also became feared within the party. So-called ‘moderates’ like Senator Olympia Snowe opted to retire. Others such as John McCain began adopting Tea Party positions — often because they knew if they didn’t, the Tea Party contingent would have absolutely no hesitation in pulling out all the stops to destroy them. The Tea Baggers will primary-challenge anybody who does not march in lockstep with them, 100% of the time, no matter the cost.
Remember, McCain’s first choices for VP didn’t include the unfit-for-any-office Chill-Billy from Wasilla. His top two choices, Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, were considered rather moderate, even by non-GOP standards. The hyper-conservative Tea Bagger contingent said no, absolutely not.
Hell, Mitch McConnell is being challenged, with ads now airing that claim he’s a progressive liberal traitor to his party.
Now we have GOP leaders such as House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell caught in the middle. They’re happy to play the games of political brinksmanship, but at the end of the day, they don’t want to destroy the government they’d like to be in charge of. Ultimately, their threats are bluffs. Everybody knows this.
The Tea Party extremists see that looming cliff and are screaming to be allowed to drive right off it — with all of us strapped in the back seat. For them, it’s not a threat to be enacted if they don’t get what they want. It’s the goal. They’re jonesing to drive off that cliff.
Here’s why I think the GOP may finally fracture, and it’s from stresses in several directions. First — and this was the eye-opener for me — Ted Cruz and guys like him have never had any respect for John Boehner. Now, Senator Cruz is openly urging House Republicans to defy their leader. (And stories are being floated that conservative House Republicans might want to replace Boehner with Cruz — technically legal, but utterly unprecedented.)
Ordinarily, I’d say, great! Let’s make popcorn and settle in for the show. Unfortunately, this is more like one of those Sea World shows, the kind where if you sit too close to the tank, you know they’re going to make the dolphins splash everyone in the first ten rows. And we’re all in those front rows. Or, for another metaphor:
If the Tea Party Republicans achieve their ever-increasing list of unreasonable demands, we’re all soaked. If they don’t, they’ll attempt to force a shutdown and default — contrary to the wishes of many of their GOP colleagues — and we’re drowned. The United States defaulting on its public debt is it, the end, hasta la vista baby. What’s worse, a lot of them seem to think the second alternative is actually better, because they believe they’ll also achieve all of the first alternative as an additional direct consequence. Plus be in charge of everything when the village is done burning to the ground.
Because for them, being in charge of smouldering rubble is preferable to any outcome other than being in charge.
Make no mistake. Ted Cruz’s self-aggrandizing grandstanding wasn’t just just about him and what he (insanely) thinks is a realistic shot at the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. Nor was it really about Obamacare — which I do prefer to call the PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (sic)), in large part because the partisan identification of the law does have a significant effect on support. In a sense, it isn’t even entirely about overall U.S. budget priorities and government policy.
It’s about a movement of politically radicalized Republican Tea Baggers who aren’t even a majority of their own party, demanding to have every one of their demands met, unconditionally. And as we’ve learned this week, even when it’s being made clear they will not get their demands, they’ll gladly go off and just keep adding to the list. Seriously, a minority of a party that controls only the House is demanding the opposition party-controlled Senate and Executive agree to a ridiculous veto-guaranteed Christmas list of anti-populist demands, or else it’s shutdown time (and presumably national debt default when that comes up, too).
They’re doing this contrary even to the advice of their last presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, who has said that a government shutdown is not how his party should deal with the PPACA. Or anything.
The reason I asked the question titling this post is because while we’ve seen signs before of the extremist Tea Bagger contingent undercutting GOP leadership, including Boehner and McConnell, this is the first time I can remember a prominent GOP upstart — Ted Cruz in this instance — openly telling GOP House members to defy their leader.
What do I think will happen come October 18th? Well, I’ve been wrong many times before, but my guess is we’re going to see yet another suspension of the infamous “Hastert Rule.” Boehner’s an ideologue, but not an idiot. I’ll wager he’ll set up the House rules to allow the Senate “clean budget” continuing resolution to come to a vote, albeit with a few minor changes so he can save face with his party, but then depend on the House Dems and enough of his own Republicans to pass it.
The inevitable result, no matter how this turns out, is the fractures within the Republican party are at the point where it would not surprise me to see the Tea Party Republicans split off, much as the Dixiecrats did to the Dems in the 1948, in opposition to anti-segregationist policies adopted by the Democratic party.
Up to and immediately after October 18th though, it’s anybody’s guess. Let’s just say it’s not looking good for the Republicans…which I honestly can’t say I mind that much.
For additional background, I highly recommend “End Days for the GOP,” by Michael Tomasky over on the Daily Beast. I’ll close with a quote from his must-read essay.
They’ll almost certainly cave, just like they did on the fiscal-cliff deal. Or maybe they won’t. They lose either way. In the former case, all their big talk came to nothing. In the latter, they’ve driven the country down the sinkhole. And so, like I said up top, they’ll be seen either as in total disarray, or as complete saboteurs.
You can only set so many houses on fire before people finally figure out that this isn’t happening by accident and you must be an arsonist. The GOP is now flirting with that moment. It can’t come soon enough.