Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, part of the Republican whip team responsible for marshaling support for legislation, said the current makeup of House Republicans could be divided roughly into a third who voted in favor of the bill because they wanted it to pass, a third who voted against the bill because they wanted it to fail, and a third who voted against the bill but had their fingers crossed that it would pass and avert a fiscal and political calamity.And why would a Republican vote no while secretly hoping for yes?
One lawmaker, Mr. Cole said, told him that while he did not want to vote in favor of the bill, he also did not want to amend it and send it back to the Senate where it might die and leave House Republicans blamed for tax increases. “So I said, ‘What you’re really telling me is that you want it to pass, but you don’t want to vote for it,'” recalled Mr. Cole, who voted yes.
Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and once the top spokesman for the former House speaker J. Dennis Hastert, a Republican, described the phenomenon thusly: “These are people who are political realists, they’re political pragmatists who want to see progress made in Washington, but are politically constrained from making compromises because they will be challenged in the primary.”In other words, about half of Republicans who vote with the hardline reactionary fringe aren't actually devoted wingnut true believers—they are actually just cowards, afraid of standing up to their political base. Whatever you think of the ethics of that, it's an invaluable insight for Democrats to remember as we move forward on issues like the debt limit. Take, for example, what the aforementioned Tom Cole said yesterday about the debt limit:
Congressman Cole is adamant that he will not accede to President Obama's unequivocal demand to raise it without any spending cuts tied to it.Tough talk, except this is the guy who just said half of Republicans who voted no on the tax cliff deal actually supported it. And given that Cole voted for the tax cliff deal and the Hurricane Sandy package, it's not a shock that he might vote no on a clean debt deal, passing the responsibility to another one of his colleagues. But when you listen to a third interview with Cole, also from yesterday, it seems clear that he knows Republicans need to let the debt limit go up, no matter how he votes.
“I couldn’t do that. I wouldn’t do that," Cole told me in a phone interview.
"We didn’t downgrade our credit [in 2011] because of the debt ceiling fight. We downgraded in my view because when we had the fight we didn’t cut enough," Cole said. "Just raising the debt ceiling with no compromise sends the wrong message—that we think we can willy-nilly go on forever."
"If there are not serious cuts, the Republican votes are not going to be there," Cole continued.
Even as Republican officials maintain the GOP majority is safe, several lawmakers and longtime activists warn of far-reaching political ramifications if voters perceive Republicans as botching consequential talks on the debt ceiling, sequestration and a possible government shutdown.So basically we're looking at a House Republican Conference in which members want to (a) develop a voting record that protects them from primary challenges while (b) not actually having that voting record influence the final outcome, because if it does, then they worry they will lose the majority in the general election. And if that's not a golden opportunity for Democrats to put House Republicans on defense throughout the 113th Congress, then nothing is.
“Majorities are elected to do things, and if they become dysfunctional, the American people will change what the majority is,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a House deputy majority whip and a former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, told The Hill.