Jonathan Cohn made an excellent point over at New Republic yesterday, Why Passing Legislation Might Not Solve the GOP’s Image Problem. There has been much talk about how if the Republicans control both chambers of Congress, they will be in a position to pass all kinds of legislation. As Mitt Romney recently said on Fox News about how Obama will be forced to veto bills, “I think at that point, we’ll find out who really is the party of no.” Cohn mentions three reasons why this isn’t likely to be the case.
First, the laws that the Republican Congress passes will almost certainly be unpopular. There is, as always, talk about immigration reform. But the Senate already passed a bill with a 13 year pathway to citizenship. This couldn’t even get a vote in the House. The Republicans there changed the bill so that the pathway was 18 years, I think. Yet even that was not acceptable. The truth is that any immigration “reform” that the Republicans pass will be something that does nothing but offend Latinos. And as I’ve discussed before, the Republican plan for immigration reform was always that it would be, “This one thing we are doing for you people!” That is not very useful in a rebranding campaign.
Other than this, I see the Republicans amending Obamacare to remove the medical device tax. I’ve heard a number of Republican politicians claim that the American people want this. The fact is the American people don’t even know that the tax exists. But I can well see the reaction of the Republican base to this bill, “You mean that’s the difference between freedom and tyranny?!” If the American people had an attention span longer than that of a gnat, all we would need to do to get them to vote for Democrats is to allow the Republicans to govern for a couple of months.
Cohn’s second reason why the Republican Congress isn’t likely to improve its brand is that the Senate Republicans are not going to stop saying “No!” to President Obama’s executive and judicial nominations. This is something I hadn’t thought about. There is zero chance that Republicans are going to be more reasonable about nominations simply because they have more power. There is a decades long trend that shows that Republicans in the Senate maximize whatever power they have. So don’t expect to see them move an inch in the direction of reasonableness.
But the biggest reason in Cohn’s opinion is that very soon the 2016 primary will start and the Republicans trying to become president will drown out everything else. And what will they be doing? Exactly what they did last time. They will be battling it out to see who is the most conservative. One will offer, “I think we should build a 50 foot wall on the border with Mexico!” And another will counter, “I guess you don’t care about illegals bringing Ebola into the country. If you did, you would support my idea to nuke Mexico so that the border is a radioactive wasteland where nothing can live!” And so on.
I think the real reason that Republicans will not be able to rebrand themselves is because they have no ideas other than “Tax cuts!” and “Drill, baby, drill!” This goes back to Cohn’s first point that the bills they will pass will be unpopular. I discussed this yesterday, The People Don’t Care About Gridlock. People want Washington to get things done in theory. But in practice, they would rather Washington not get things done than get things done that they don’t like.
So will the Republicans manage to pass a personhood bill? Very possibly. They might be able to pass Romney’s millionaire’s tax cut. They might be able to pass legislation that will take healthcare away from millions. But all of these will just reinforce the common (and correct) perception of Republicans: they can’t get much done and what they can get done is bad.