More often than I care to remember I’ve been confronted with the headline “Democrats in Disarray”. Usually these stories are about minor policy differences and the vocal people who are trying to make their point of view heard rather than the party being pulled apart.
Which is not to say that we are not open to being fractious, my standard sig line reads “Getting Democrats together and keeping them that way is like herding cats, that are high on meth, through L.A., during an earthquake, in the rain.”
Which is why I am really glad to write this post. You see the Republican Party is really in disarray and it does not look like they are going to get their act together anytime in the near future.
The payroll tax extension is just the most recent sign that the GOP is like a crippled super-tanker, wallowing in deep seas while the crew bickers over who should get to use the shower first.
One of the things that the authoritarian party of Lincoln has had going for it in the last few decades is that while they might disagree they had great discipline when it came to legislating. Whether it is the unprecedented use of the filibuster in the Senate or the lock step voting for the Medicare ending (no mater what the craven Politifact says) Ryan budget the Republicans could generally be counted on to follow through with the deals made by their leadership and vote together.
That has changed. There is not really any one reason that can be teased out for full blame for this and that is what makes the disarray label apt at this time.
There is, of course, the incredibly weak leadership of Speaker Boehner. It is exceptionally rare, except in this Congress for any legislation to have to be removed from voting when the Speaker of the House has put it on the agenda, yet it has happened to Boehner more than once.
Worse, is unable to give his stamp of approval on negotiations and have it stick, even in the face of some discontent from his caucus. Other Speakers facings a large number of defections from their caucus have reached out to the other party for the needed votes and shown that when they say something is going to get done it, indeed is done.
This has not been the case for the Speaker in the 112th Congress. He is straight jacketed by the very lock-step history of his party. If he reaches out to House Democrats for the votes he needs then he will be facing more not less defections going forward.
The new Republican ideal is that they never compromise (even though that is the designed intent of our government) with Democrats. To do so is to be branded a RINO and face the rabid legions of the Club for Growth and Koch Brothers sponsored Americans for Prosperity.
This has left Boehner riding a tiger, desperately holding the ears and praying he won’t fall off. It has gotten so bad that the Wall Street Journal is excoriating both House and Senate Republicans today. From that unsigned editorial:
But now Republicans are drowning out that victory in the sounds of their circular firing squad. Already four GOP Senators have rejected the House position, and the political rout will only get worse.
One reason for the revolt of House backbenchers is the accumulated frustration over a year of political disappointment. Their high point was the Paul Ryan budget in the spring that set the terms of debate and forced Mr. Obama to adopt at least the rhetoric of budget reform and spending cuts.
That plaintive plea to the good old days when the Republicans did indeed change the national conversation by marching themselves over a political cliff is a perfect example of the trouble the party is in today. Sure they got the issue of debt and cuts on the table but they also firmly hung the Sword of Damocles over their own electoral heads by doing so. Getting out form under it has been a preoccupation of Republican Leadership for the last 8 months.
There are other problems that have the hamstrung the Republicans. The fact that the “cut taxes all the time” meme has pretty much been worn to a smoldering nub politically is a problem for a party whose “thinkers” include the deranged Newt Gingrich, who throws out wilder and wilder ideas at the drop of a hat regardless of their lack of basis in both law and reality.
There are new ideas in the GOP but they are ideas that are all regressive, including rolling back birth-right citizenship, child labor laws and the minimum wage. All of these ideas fall under the category (thanks disgraced Mr. Speaker Gingrich!) of Right Wing Social engineering and are soundly rejected by the American people.
Another underrated factor in the Republican push-me-pull-you act is the fact of having back to back contested primaries. Ronald Regan was wrong about a hell of a lot of things, but his 11th Commandment that you should not tear down your primary opponents nor speak badly of other members of your party was an exception.
The Republicans have been bitterly waging the battle for their nomination this cycle. What they saw as their way back to power with Citizens United has become a stinking albatross around their collective necks.
The Super-PAC money that is being used to beat each other to death with negative ads is exposing the fracture lines in the GOP coalition. The lightly papered over differences are being highlighted as each Super-PAC supporting each candidate and the campaigns themselves are scratching away at each other like wet cats in a sack.
Then there is the Tea Party movement. They too are to blame for the failing cohesion of the Republicans. The freshmen elected in 2010 ran, as did those who were not elected, as caring more about their confused principles than about getting elected or staying elected.
There have been defections that the Republican Leadership can't quash because they do not have the club of re-election support to hold over the heads of these know-nothings who rode a wave of discontent to some semblance of power. If you really don’t care that that you could be a one term Representative, then there is not a lot the party can do to keep you in the fold.
All of this leads to the current state of affairs. The Republican Party finds itself out of ideas, out of step with the nation, out of discipline and willing to air its dirty laundry in public with more than a little bit of glee. Its famous discipline as been shattered by weak leaders who don’t have the tools to keep the backbenchers in line and this has put them in the position of having power but being unable to use it except in self-destructive ways.
Normal political science would indicate that they will take another electoral drubbing for their failings, that should lead to a re-evaluation of their tactics and goals. However, that does not seem likely given that the money and thought (such as it is) for this party comes form outside sources like the Koch Brothers who don’t care about the party as long as they continue to get more of their narrow agenda.
Sooner or later it will have to come to a head, but in the mean time we will get to enjoy the schadenfreude of headlines that read Republican Party in Disarray. Ah, payback through reversal of fortune, is there anything sweeter?
The floor is yours.