Karl Rove and the Politics of Impotence

Karl RoveI think I may understand why Karl Rove sounds like the voice of reason in the Republican Party these days. Unlike most of the Republicans in Congress, he’s practical. To him, it is very simple: blocking everything that Obama proposes does not lead to Republican policy. Nor is it the case that just standing around blocking all policy will lead to a Republican White House and Congress. In fact, on Monday, the Washington Examiner published, House at Risk in 2014 Unless GOP Offers Agenda. According to the article, Republicans are quietly worried that they really could lose control of the House, even if the public statements assure us that it would be, “Pert near impossible.” And that is the kind of thing that Karl Rove is worried about.

Rove was debating the issue with Mike Lee on the Sean Hannity Radio Show on Monday. Rove said, “This assumes that the Democrats are going to be scared of a shutdown. They’re aren’t; they want it! They know what happened to us in 1995.” Lee responded that Rove was being a coward, “You mean to suggest that we’re not going to fight and we shouldn’t fight simply because we’re so afraid of being blamed for it? This is how we get into this mess when we say we’re afraid that the other side’s not going to cave so we have to. So we cave and we cave and we cave.” Note the framing: normal legislation within the limits of your power is caving. “Ignorance is strength” much?

It only gets worse. Jonathan Chait wrote an article this morning that suggests that we won’t see a government shutdown because the Republican establishment “is pushing back aggressively and effectively.” But that even if this is the case, it will only be a temporary reprieve. He flags an amazing National Review article by Robert Costa, Shutting Down a Shutdown. In it, he wrote, “Sources tell me the House GOP will probably avoid using a shutdown as leverage and instead use the debt limit and sequester fights as areas for potential legislative trades.” So instead of something bad (government shutdown), the Republicans will do something really bad (government default). Brilliant!

The problem here is the politics of impotence. At least half of the Congressional Republicans feel they must do something but they must not compromise their ideology. This makes them impotent because they simply don’t have the power to do what they want. Normally, a party would do what it must do to get the power it needed. That is certainly what people like Karl Rove want to do. But among the true believers, there is (as I’ve written about many times before) a revolutionary fervor. They think that if they just stand firm and believe, then the Democrats will just crumble. This is a very dangerous situation.

I don’t think that Rove is right to say that the Democrats want a shutdown. I think most of us would rather just have a reasonable party that we could deal with. But he is most assuredly right that the Democrats don’t fear a shutdown. It would be bad for the Republican Party. It could be just what the Democrats need to take back the House in 2014. But here’s the interesting thing: even if that happened, I don’t think that the Republican Party is ready to change. Even if they lost, the remaining members of the House Republican Caucus would claim that the problem was that they compromised too much. They would redouble their efforts at obstruction. And we would have to wait until 2018 to see any real changes. And that is what Karl Rove is worried about and it is why he is the most prominent voice of reason in that very troubled party.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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