POLITICO accidentally points out how insanely conservative the GOP is

On Tuesday, the House passed a clean Department of Homeland Security funding bill, avoiding a looming departmental shutdown while leaving President Obama’s executive actions on immigration intact.

The bill passed with 167 no votes, all coming from Republicans. This led POLITICO’s David Rogers to note that the current House is best understood as a three-party parliamentary system: “the party on the right; the dominant Republican core in the center; and the left, represented by the Democrats.”

This is the best way to understand a chamber in which a large faction of the GOP is willing to deny Speaker John Boehner a majority on issues they find ideologically objectionable, and…

Wait, I’m sorry, what was that about a “dominant Republican core in the center”?

This line is a massively irresponsible concession to the GOP, implying that a political faction that happens to be in between two other factions is, by definition, in the center of the political spectrum.

This couldn’t be farther from true.

As I’ve written before, polarization in Congress isn’t balanced, and hasn’t been for quite some time. As measured by DW-Nominate scores, a widely-used measure of partisanship in political science, fourteen Republican Senators were more conservative than socialist Bernie Sanders was liberal in the 113th Congress, between 2012 and 2014. Elizabeth Warren was the most liberal senator, even to the left of Sanders, and yet there were still nine GOP senators farther to the right than she was to the left.

In the House, there were 31 Republicans who were farther to the right than Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, the most partisan Democrat, was to the left. True to Rogers’s point, those 31 Republicans are enough to deny John Boehner a majority if they, along with the 188 Democrats, vote no as a bloc.

But they aren’t outliers; unlike the most partisan Democrats, they have plenty of company on the extreme right. VoteView plotted the percentage of members of both parties with a DW-Nominate score outside of -0.5 and 0.5 (the scale runs from -1 being 100% Democratic to 1 being 100% Republican) over time, including preliminary data from the current session of Congress.

Nearly every House Democrat is classified by DW-Nominate as a centrist; nearly every House Republican is not (if the image is too grainy, click on the link in the caption for a better view):

Percentage of non-centrists by party over time, via VoteView

Percentage of non-centrists by party over time, via VoteView

Obviously, partisanship isn’t the same thing as ideology, but by both standards it’s reasonable to say that Congress is operating almost entirely on one side of the political spectrum. Rogers may be right in pointing out that there are three factions in Congress, but their orientations sure as hell aren’t left/center/right. They are, at best, center/far right/almost-off-the-charts right.

So just because 167 Republicans — including members of the party’s lower-level leadership — were willing to shut down the Department of Homeland Security just so they could deport a few more undocumented immigrants, that doesn’t make the other 78 Republicans in the House “moderate.” If anything, while the Tea Party wants to flip tables and advocate for insane policies, the establishment wing of the Republican Party wants to bring enough legislators to the table actually pass insane policies.

There is no Democratic equivalent to this. Elizabeth Warren is not Ted Cruz’s hippie socialist alter-ego. We have one party doing its damndest to form an Ayn Randian dystopia and one party trying to keep America on the rails. You can call that a lot of things, but you can’t call it balanced.

The sooner we all stop pretending otherwise, the sooner we’ll be able to make progress.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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