I’m no fan of Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei. They are are ultimate “inside the beltway” and “conventional wisdom” guys and I usually want to throttle them. But the fact that they are so plugged into Washington means that they can be believed when they report about what “people” are saying in Washington. So I was interested to see that last night they published an article about the concerns of mainstream Republicans, Eve of Destruction. It starts with a bold proclamation, “It is almost impossible to find an establishment Republican in town who’s not downright morose about the 2013 that has been and is about to be.” I’ll bet that’s true.
Right now, I’m very concerned about what the crazy faction in the Republican Party is going to do. The amount of damage they could do to the country is enormous. But they would also be doing great damage to their own party. Even five years ago, I would have thought that a bad thing. But increasingly, I think the only way forward is for the Republican Party to go away and the Democratic Party to split in half. So a government default would be very bad but it would have a silver lining. That’s not true for establishment Republicans; it is all downside for them.
But let me put it a little differently. In terms of policy, the establishment Republicans are just as vile as the Crazy Caucus. They are different in that they understand how politics works and that losing elections means losing power. A big part of the House Republican caucus is made up of inexperienced politicians. Over 100 Republicans in the House were first elected in 2010 or 2012. And a great many of them came to Washington thinking that our constitutional republic was about to be extinguished by the Kenyan socialist interloper in the White House. They are not people who take the long view because they think the crisis is right now.
For the record, I think there is something to what the crazy caucus is doing, even if they are unaware of it. Even though Republicans have lost plenty of elections from 1976 on, government policy has gotten more and more conservative. So in as much as the Republicans can lose elections and still get the Democrats to follow them, the Republicans win. The difference here is that the Republicans look awfully close to losing a voice in the debate. If they start winning only 30% of the seats in the House, they just won’t matter. (Or the party will finally make major changes for the better.)
So what are these morose Republican establishment types talking about? “Several influential Republicans told us the party is actually in a worse place than it was Nov. 7, the day after the disastrous election.” They make three points: (1) the party is hurting itself even more with groups that have been a problem for them; (2) those Republicans who tried to do something (e.g. Rubio on immigration) were beaten down; and (3) the Crazy Caucus wants to shut the government down this fall. Yep, that about sums it up.
But the fears of the Republican establishment are kind of silly from my perspective. The article says, “These Republicans came into the year exceptionally hopeful the party would finally wise up and put immigration and irresponsible rhetoric and governing behind them.” It is clear what the problem is here. Consider Rubio on immigration: he wasn’t willing to give much on the issue even at his best. That and an end to “irresponsible rhetoric” is what was going to save the party? The linchpins of the Republican Party are lower taxes on the wealthy and abortion restrictions on the poor. There are related issue here (e.g. cutting spending on the poor), but those two are what the party really cares about. I understand that they can’t moderate on the abortion issue: most of their popular support is on that issue. But they could come up with a more (I’m going to say it!) populist policy on taxes. I’m not saying they should start calling for huge tax increasing, but being against taxes under all circumstances is just stupid and irresponsible. But these establishment Republicans won’t even do that.
The problem with the Republican Party is that the extremists and the establishment don’t disagree about anything except tactics. The establishment members of the party are right to be worried. But if they really want to be pointing a finger at who is destroying their party, they will need to use a mirror.