Sunday, September 27, 2015

GOP On The Road To Irrelevance

If there was ever any doubt that the Republican Party is careening down the slope to political irrelevance; that uncertainty was all but erased with the announcement of John Boehner’s resignation.

Boehner informed the country that he would be leaving the speakership and his congressional seat at the end of October. Facing a challenge from the far right to vacate his chair, Boehner decided that it was “best for the institution” to step aside. He expressed confidence that he could overcome any efforts to remove him but decided that it was best for his caucus and the country to avoid such conflict. “Your primary responsibility in this job is to protect the institution,” Boehner said. “And since I was planning on stepping down at the end of the year anyway I thought now was a good a time as any.”

The truth here is that while Boehner loved his job he had grown increasingly weary at the destructive behavior of the “knuckleheads” occupying the far right fringe of his caucus. The prospect of a vote to vacate the chair was very real. Boehner most likely would have prevailed. But he correctly judged that such a squabble within the party during an election cycle would prove costly to both his party and the country.

Boehner’s announcement was met with raucous cheers from the Tea Party members of the caucus. His cardinal sin in the eyes of the Tea Party fringe was to seek compromise with Democrats to get things done. On rare occasions Boehner had the audacity to circumvent Tea Party intransigence by soliciting the help of Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats to pass legislation. Those occasions were few and far between but once was enough for the far right.

In recent weeks the debate concerned passage of a continuing resolution to fund the government. The current CR expires at the end of this month. The Tea Party members wanted to pass a CR that excluded any funding for Planned Parenthood and vowed to block passage of any bill that included such funding. Failing to pass a CR would cause a costly government shutdown. That was fine with the far right who believed that the president would be blamed for the costly stoppage.

Apparently Tea Party members have no recollection of recent history. The last government shutdown resulted in the furlough of 800,000 government jobs, a $25 billion hit to the economy and the first credit downgrade in our nation’s history. The blame for this misery was placed squarely on the shoulders of the Republicans. The political fallout devastating. No matter to the current bunch…many of whom helped to drive the train into the ditch the last time.

Boehner understood that a CR without funding for Planned Parenthood would never pass the Senate. And even if it did it would never get past the president’s desk. The resulting shutdown would have devastating consequences in the upcoming election. Boehner sought compromise and for that the Tea Party wanted his head.

Make no mistake…25-40 members that make up the Tea Party caucus have clout…and they are more than willing to use it. The last member of leadership who dared to defy the far right ended up seeking other employment.

Former Majority Leaser and heir apparent to Boehner’s thrown, Eric Cantor, once a Tea Party favorite, became too squishy in the eyes of the right when he dared to solicit Nancy Pelosi’s help in whipping up votes on several pieces of legislation. The Tea Party put up a candidate to challenge Cantor’s re-election bid in the primary and sent the #3 Republican packing.
Threaten a politicians prospects at re-election and you get his/her attention. It is in this web of fear that the Tea Party makes its bones. It is this fear of job security that rests at the core of the intransigence and gridlock that we have come to expect from the Republican Party.

The problem with the right wing caucus is that while they are good at fear mongering, obstruction and causing political mayhem they have no idea what to do when they win. After defeating Cantor and promoting McCarthy their choice for Majority Whip was Steve Scalise. Scalise has often been referred to within the party as “David Duke without the baggage.” Nothing warms the hearts of minorities like appointing an avowed racist to a leadership position.

It appears that Boehner’s successor will be his current #2, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy…a choice made more by process of elimination because of course there is no consensus within the party. McCarthy doesn’t necessarily fall in line with the crazies but he did recruit a lot of the young guns that are wreaking havoc within the party. The real fight will be to see who replaces McCarthy as Leader.

Meanwhile there is a continuing resolution to be passed and a government shutdown to be avoided. My guess is they will pass a CR at the eleventh hour that will fund the government at current levels for a few months. That will give the Republican majority more time to see if they can get their act together. Then around Christmas time they will debate the issue all over again. Nothing says Happy Holidays like the prospect of closing down services on which tens of millions of Americans depend.

John Boehner was arguably the second most powerful man in the world. Yet with all that power he was incapable of governing. I believe that John Boehner was a pragmatist. I believe that if you locked John Boehner and Joe Biden in a room the two of them would reach an equitable compromise on most of the issues that divide us. But that is not how the system works. In order to govern you need to build consensus within your own party and Boehner was never able to accomplish that goal.

It is one thing to stand up for your convictions. But throwing bricks and causing utter mayhem when you don’t get your way is something altogether different. John Boehner was bad at his job because he was never able to get his caucus to understand the difference.

That is why the Republican Party is on the fast track to political irrelevance.

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