There have been a lot of articles written in the last two days talking about the battle raging inside the Republican Party. Yesterday, for example, Bloomberg published, Republican Civil War Erupts: Business Groups v. Tea Party. But I don’t buy it. If there is a war going on in the GOP, it is only between those who want to immediately eliminate all aid to the poor and those who want to do it incrementally over the next decade: Paul Broun versus Paul Ryan.
I think Josh Barro is beginning to see the light. In the middle of the crisis, he wrote, “The most dangerous group in Congress is moderate Republicans, many from the northeast, who could reopen the government and break extremists’ grip on their caucus’ agenda, but choose not to.” Implicit in that statement, however, is the fact that the supposed moderates are choosing not to do anything for their own personal reasons. And I know from other things that Barro has said and written that he largely thinks it is cowardice.
This is the conventional wisdom in Washington. Most of the Republicans are not so very extreme, they are just worried about challenges from the right. But what really appears to be happening is that these supposed moderates believe exactly the same things that the extremists do. They are just trying to thread a needle. If there were no bad political consequences, they would be voting extremist, not moderate. There are a couple of reasons I think this. First, most right wing challenges fail. Look at how Orrin Hatch turned even further to the right because of a primary challenge. And what finally happened? Hatch won his primary by over 30 percentage points. So the fear may be real, but it isn’t all that valid.
Add to this the fact the Republicans especially overestimate how conservative the people they represent are. What this means is that these supposed moderates are eager to join the extremists. They have fear of the right and the left (actually the center). But when there is pressure from the two sides, they always move to the right. Mike Coffman, for example, won re-election by less than 7,000 votes. In his district, Obama beat Romney by 5 percentage points last year. Coffman, in other words, is extremely vulnerable in 2014. And in the end, he voted to reopen the government. But where had he been? In the nice warm waters of GOP extremism because that’s who he is.
The same thing goes for business interests who are now supposedly upset that their Republican lapdogs are doing things that make them a tad uncomfortable. There is no rift here. The only difference between Ted Cruz and Sheldon Adelson is that Adelson wants policy results. And really, who cares if the Republicans weaken the economy, as long as they also push policies that continue giving more and more to the rich? I’ll admit, the business community might like to soften the edges of the GOP. But that’s just as true with gay rights as it is with government shutdown and Debt Ceiling crises. What the business community (as represented by the nation Chamber of Commerce) wants is exactly what the House extremists want. It’s just that the business community would rather finesse the argument. “Let the poor die!” just isn’t good marketing. But it is a shared policy goal.
Update (19 October 2013 4:26 pm)
Dave Weigel says more or less the same thing, Tea-ism: Why Big Business Won’t Abandon the Tea Party. But as usual for him, he accepts the Tea Party rhetoric at face value. The reason they are unruly is simply because they have actually drunk the tea. The business community knows that Obamacare will not bring about a socialist hellscape. That’s just rhetoric that they generate to get the base’s attention. It just doesn’t work as well to say, “This is the kind of program that might lead to slightly less freedom for the very rich over the coming decades.” Again: the end goal is the same. The only thing that the two “sides” disagree about is urgency.