The Republican Establishment and The Tea Party Need to Stop Fooling Themselves

Published October 17, 2013

Begun, the wound-licking period has. I think this piece from Ace is about as good of a summing up of why we got to the point of shutdown, and why it achieved nothing, as I’ve read yet.

“The Republican Establishment is, as one might guess, conservative by temperament. It resists change, moreso than the the Democrat Establishment (which almost seemed eager to confess they were fully Men and Women of the Unreconstructed Left; they just needed an excuse to say so). The only way this marriage can be saved – if it can be at all – is for the Establishment to stop fighting the Tea Party on everything, and instead begin plotting politically-savvy ways to forward the Tea Party’s way of thinking.”

The balance of what’s possible with what the base wants is a delicate thing, and Republican leadership sure hasn’t figured out how to achieve it. That Bismarck line about politics being the art of the possible is being bandied about a lot lately – John Podhoretz used it regarding the medical device tax. Jonah Goldberg deployed it here, regarding the shutdown deal. But I’ve always had a problem with it, because I think it ignores the reality of modern political tactics. Politics is the art of the possible, yes, but it is not exclusively that. It is also the art of destroying your opponents. The left understands this, which is why The Nation doesn’t think this is a real victory for Democrats: it was a missed opportunity to really, really, for reals, kill the Republicans with fire from the sky.

“Because the deal only includes minor concessions, the Beltway consensus is that it represents a resounding defeat for Republicans, who “surrendered” their original demands to defund or delay Obamacare. In the skirmish of opinion polls, that may be true, for now. But in the war of ideas, the Senate deal is but a stalemate, one made almost entirely on conservative terms. The GOP now goes into budget talks with sequestration as the new baseline, primed to demand longer-term cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And they still hold the gun of a US default to the nation’s head in the next debt ceiling showdown. Surrender? Any more “victories” like this and Democrats will end up paying tribute into the GOP’s coffers.”

And for those screaming about permanent changes to the way things happen in Washington – nope, that’s not happening either.

But back to that “art of the possible” idea – assume you have two options on the table in the current economy: a reduction in the corporate income tax rate, or a reduction in personal income taxes for middle class families. Assume further that option 1 is likely to succeed, and option 2 certain to fail. Option 1 would allow Democrats to build themselves up with corporate donors, while also allowing the media to slam Republicans as typical greedy corporatists… while making it more difficult to achieve option 2 in the future. In this frame, there’s no question from my perspective that you take option 2, even if option 1 represents good policy. This is a basic disagreement over how to approach bad policy which has been going on for decades: do you try to fix it, or do you refuse to help fix it in ways that make it less damaging to various constituencies, instead making the case for overall repeal? Lost in the shutdown scrap has been the reality that Obamacare’s terrible launch has done enormous damage to the idea that it could ever represent the foundation for any future free market reforms, and done a great deal to build the case for those who stuck to overall repeal. We’ll see now whether the right can pivot to making that case.

It seems to me the real lesson of the shutdown is to stop lying to yourselves about what’s possible. House leadership lied to themselves about their ability to sell the debt limit plan to the caucus. Ted Cruz lied to himself about what the House leadership would do and what the end game would look like. John Boehner lied to himself about what he could get through the caucus. Paul Ryan lied to himself about the willingness of the caucus/POTUS to back his grand committee solution (or that the Senate wouldn’t screw him over on it). Senate leadership lied to themselves about their ability to sell a deal to House GOPers. And conservatives lied to themselves about Boehner’s last minute deal being worse than what they’d get. Republicans of all stripes have to stop fooling themselves – but given the lack of trust between the factions and the embedded resentment which runs so deep, this is unlikely to occur.

Unification needs to happen for the party to succeed in 2014, and have any hope of repealing Obamacare in 2017. It needs to happen soon. Lick those wounds faster.

[Originally published on The Federalist]