The GOP caved in on the payroll tax cut extension ending what had to be one of the most embarrassing and politically costly weeks in the party’s history. Speaker Boehner took the podium and announced that House Republicans would support the two month payroll tax extension passed by the Senate. It is telling that unlike previous moments when a defiant Speaker addressed the media flanked by supportive members of his caucus; this time he faced the cameras alone.
The Republican Party is a train wreck. The Party is run by a small group of freshman Tea Party congressman so focused on obstructionism that they can’t figure out how to move the country forward. Speaker Boehner has lost control. Time and time again Tea Party freshman have forced him to walk away from a compromise with the President that would help the country. From the “Grand Bargain” to the debt ceiling to the payroll tax cuts they have embarrassed their Speaker and weakened their party. Their message is disjointed and voiced with little purpose except to defeat this President. This week they were against the tax cuts, then they supported them, then they were against them again before they finally supported them. In the end they went too far and the discord within the Party spilled out for the entire world to see. Prominent Republican voices like Mitch McConnell, Karl Rove, John McCain, Charles Krauthammer and the Wall Street Journal all publically savaged House Republicans for their reckless intransigence. Boehner realized that the cause was lost and ultimately surrendered.
Lost in all the chatter is the fact that Republicans actually got a great deal of what they wanted in this debate. They blocked the surcharge on millionaires, moved the Keystone pipeline forward and thus far have stalled 90% of the President’s jobs bill. A good leader would have been able to spin this into some sort of victory. That didn’t happen; and now many within the Party are questioning Boehner’s ability to lead. Some are openly opining that he will be recalled before the end of his term.
Republicans will get another shot at the payroll tax in the spring when the two month extension expires. But that will come right in the middle of the Republican primaries where a fractured Party is already lurching from one frontrunner to the next; unable to align their support behind one strong candidate.
The last few months have been an absolute catastrophe for the Republican Party. The infighting within the walls of Congress and on the campaign trail has damaged their message, their credibility and their ability to get anything done for the American people. They have managed to allow Democratic Party to don the mantle that had always been borne by Republicans; ceding to Democrats the party of tax cuts and strong defense. At the same time the Republican food fight has provided the President with a strong year end surge. Even with a struggling economy and 8.6% unemployment the President’s approval ratings have rebounded to an astounding 49%. Meanwhile Congressional approval has plummeted to 11%. They appear tone deaf and mean. So inconsequential is their message that they have been reduced to sniping at the President for Christmas shopping...with his dog.
There will be many more debates between now and the 2012 elections. At lot can happen between now and then. If the President manages to win a second term there are many who will point to this weeks’ Republican collapse as a key factor in handing him that victory.