Martin Longman wrote a very good article last week, Ted Cruz to Push It Real Good. It’s all about the upcoming government shutdown. To my surprise, there are actually some Republicans in the House, called the Main Street Partnership, who are pushing back publicly on the idea. They point out that it is really bad for the economy — which happens to be right. But the Ted Cruz wing of the party thinks they have to shut down the government, because the Republican base is restless. To support this idea, check out this amazing stat: “Survey data released by the Pew Research Center over the summer showed that positive views of the GOP among Republicans declined by an astonishing 18 percentage points since January.”
Longman’s claim is that the Republican Party is in a catch-22. Appealing to the base will necessarily offend everyone else. His advice, “But, as a rule, when you’re in a hole…” That’s certainly true. The problem at this point is that the GOP has made far too many promises. They are now in control of Congress. They told the whole nation that things were going to change. But of course, they haven’t. The base was hoping for a big showdown with the president. Instead, it has managed to get only two bills passed that Obama vetoed: one about the Keystone XL Pipeline and another minor bill trying to micromanage the NLRB. Not exactly exciting stuff.
But I wonder if the Republican Party could stop now even if it wanted to. As it is, I doubt that Donald Trump would be leading in the Republican presidential primary if the party had had its way. But instead, it is all the conservative media sources that have allowed him to become a big deal. This is a classic case of “live by the sword and die by the sword.” People tend to say that the Republican Party has created a monster in its base. But it isn’t the base. If the base weren’t told every day on Fox News that the country was going to hell, it would get in line with the Republican Party.
That’s the true catch-22 here. Because if the GOP doesn’t have Fox News, what does it have? My experience in talking to conservatives is that they don’t know what to think beyond, “America good!” Fox News manages to get them riled up about the most ridiculous stuff in the world. But it also keeps them focused on the thing that Republican elites care most about: tax cuts. Most conservatives I know want to see taxes raised on the rich. If it weren’t for the conservative commentators talking about this stuff, keeping taxes low on the rich would be as politically relevant as whether we should continue to fund the military.
I really don’t know where the Republican Party goes from here. My best guess is that they don’t go anywhere. Most people don’t pay enough attention to politics for it to matter. If China’s economy tanks and it takes down the rest of the world, the Republicans will probably do great in the 2016 election. It’s certainly the case that while the 2013 government shutdown was bad for the economy, it wasn’t bad for the Republicans in the election just a year later. And let’s face it: the power elite in this country know they have nothing to fear from the Democrats. Maybe their taxes will go up a tiny amount — that’s about it. At worst, having Democrats in power just means treading water until the Republicans get control and give the power elite everything it wants.
So maybe it’s not a catch-22 after all. Maybe we are all too focused on the short game. It doesn’t matter what happens to this week, or this year, or even this decade. And don’t forget: the power elite have done great under Obama. Under a Republican, they get a bigger slice of the pie, but a smaller pie. It may be that they support the Republicans just to keep the Democrats from doing anything that would hurt them.