The Republican Party's Three Options

[ Posted Thursday, October 17th, 2013 – 17:14 UTC ]

It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, Scene V

Now that we're done with both Round 1 and Round 2 of this year's annual budgetary battles, and while we have a pause here before Round 3 starts up, it's worth taking a moment to ponder the near-term future of the Republican Party.

The shutdown really consisted of two internal fights between factions of Republicans. The first of these, obviously, was the ongoing Tea Party takeover of the establishment Republicans. In fact, to mark the occasion of this fight moving squarely into the spotlight, from now on I'm going to honor the wing of the party with a fully-capitalized name, and will henceforth refer to the Establishment Republicans.

The second fight was more subtle, and is explained by this "only told in Washington" type of joke:

A freshman member of the House was being shown around during his first days in office by an older and wiser member of his party. The old pol was explaining how the seating worked in the House chamber. "Our side sits over here, and the other party sits over there."

The young politician responded, with all the fervor only a freshman can bring: "You mean that's where the enemy sits?"

The older gentleman sighed and said in a patient voice: "No, no... that is what we call the loyal opposition." He then walked the new representative out of the chamber, dragging him into the Rotunda in the center of the Capitol. With his back to the House wing, he pointed the other direction and asked the freshman: "What is over there?"

The freshman, now thoroughly confused, said: "That's the Senate."

To which the old pol responded: "That's right, son. That is the enemy."

Like I said, that joke doesn't travel well outside the Beltway, but you get the idea. Republican senators were the angriest at the House Tea Partiers of any group in Washington for the past few weeks, and not a few of them were willing to vent that anger to the television cameras. This is a result of John Boehner ceding all leadership to the Tea Partiers (and to Ted Cruz), but it is also part of an age-old power struggle within the Capitol.

In any case, those are the lines of division. The question then becomes: What next? What is the Republican Party going to do now? They are faced with alarming public opinion polling and a shrinking base. Midterm elections are just over one year away. We've got one more round of budget battles to get through early in 2014, and then America will need a whole new fiscal year's budget on October 1st, one month before the election happens.

Which way will the Republican Party go? As I see it, they've got three basic choices.


Lurch Right

While the past three weeks have broken the intraparty power struggle out into center ring, some voices of moderation and sanity did emerge from the Republican ranks. However, there weren't all that many of them -- especially on the House side. While John McCain and a few other senators made a strong case that Ted Cruz and his crusade was doomed to fail from the get-go, there weren't all that many House Republicans who were willing to publicly back this position up. They are terrified of the Tea Party "primarying" them in their own district, to be blunt.

But the next round of budget battles is going to happen right before primary season. The fear of the Tea Party will be acute and immediate. While 87 House Republicans are already on record voting against the Tea Party's wishes, few of them were willing to take a public stand even this time around. Next time, they might be rethinking their vote and be pushed to the right as a result. I have no idea if the Tea Partiers will be stupid enough to cause a second shutdown, but their position may indeed be strengthened by the more timid Establishment Republicans looking to burnish their conservative credentials right before primaries happen.

Taking a slightly longer view, no matter what happens in the budget battles to come, the Republican Party could cut hard right in the 2014 elections themselves. Putting aside the question of whether they'll keep control of the House or not, the ratio within the party of Tea Partiers to Establishment Republicans could shift in the Tea Party's direction. To put this another way, no matter the size of the Republican caucus, within the caucus itself the Tea Party could get a lot stronger after the elections. This would, by definition almost, chart a much more rightward course for the party as a whole. It may even get to the point where some moderate Republicans consider jumping ship (see: Arlen Specter), or re-registering as an Independent.


Civil war drags on

Sadly, this is the most likely option. The status quo continues. Because the national Republican Party is a very powerful organization, neither side may be marginalized any time soon in the struggle for control. The prize is such a big one that it'll be tough for either side to fully concede it to the other.

This doesn't bode well for Congress in the meantime. After all, we've just experienced a three-week fratricidal fight between the wings of the Republican Party, and it wasn't pretty. The mainstream media keep predicting, optimistically, that "now the fever has broken," just as they have since 2012. They've always gotten this wrong before, and the chances are pretty darn good they're going to get it wrong this time, too. Tea Partiers are just never going to wake up one day and have an epiphany and declare the Tea Party goals to be silly and unreachable. This is a very emotion-driven movement, and expecting them to suddenly end their fervor is just not very realistic.

This civil war may become entrenched, and it may start being fought on different battlefields. Major Republican donors (from the world of Big Business and Wall Street) are seriously disappointed in the Republican Party right now. They are not so disappointed that they're about to start funding Democratic candidates, but they are looking into funding more reasonable candidates than whichever Tea Partier screams the loudest. This seems like a subtle shift, but it could result in a very different playing field in the 2014 elections and beyond. If the big Republican dollars start flowing away from the Tea Party and towards Establishment Republicans only then it would signal an important shift backstage.

Of course, the civil war is going to be (temporarily) won in one way or another in the 2016 races. Eventually the Republican Party is going to have to rally around a single candidate for president. Whether it's Chris Christie causing angst with the Tea Partiers or Ted Cruz annoying the Establishment Republicans, the party is going to have to pick one direction for the 2016 campaign. Of course, if they lose, whichever faction got slighted will renew their efforts with vigor, saying: "I told you so! We need to move towards/away from (pick one) the Tea Party!" Which will start the civil war back up all over again.


Lurch Center

Because I am being polite, I will not insult Republicans by suggesting that the party "lurch left." Instead, we speak of the option that they lurch toward the center. Ahem.

The Republican Party is battered, right now. They just lost an enormous battle. One wing of the party told the other, at the start of this battle: "This is a stupid battle to fight, we're not going to win, and it is going to hurt us -- badly -- with the public." Turns out, they were right. There are many Republicans who told the party leaders (behind closed doors, away from the press, for the most part) not to shut the government down and not to hold the debt ceiling ransom, because it would end in disaster. It has now, indeed, done precisely that.

So maybe this strengthens the position of the Establishment Republicans. Maybe it will seriously weaken the Tea Partiers. Maybe the intra-party argument will now become: "You can work with us and get something done, or you can follow the Tea Party who only knows how to lead you into destruction and defeat -- but you can't do both." Maybe the cry "Remember the shutdown!" will be heard in Republican caucus meetings from now on -- the best worst example of Tea Party magical thinking.

Maybe John Boehner and Mitch McConnell will use this opportunity to boost their power and -- Boehner in particular -- will begin showing strong leadership when a minority faction starts having tantrums. Boehner could quite easily do so, by informing his caucus of some new House scheduling -- we pencil in these two weeks for Tea Partiers to pass whatever crazy bills they feel like, to run absolutely amok and shout as loud as they can on the battlements, but then after this date the Tea Party will then sit down and shut up and we will hold the important votes this bill needs. For instance, if there's a deadline on February 7th, then the Tea Partiers can have all of January, but come February the adult votes will take place, where Establishment Republicans will cut some sort of deal with the Democrats to allow America to function.

The biggest way to signal that the Republican Party is interested in repairing some of the damage it just did to itself would be for the House to begin debate on immigration reform. The party right now needs a way to convince the public that it is indeed interested in governing, and this would be the perfect way to do so. Republicans who are interested in growing their party and reopening the "big tent" of Republicanism once again could ignore their nativist fellow members and work with Democrats to pass something along the lines of the overwhelmingly bipartisan Senate bill. That could signal a major shift in the party, and it would do them a world of good heading into the 2014 elections, and beyond.

However, while I left this option for last because I knew it'd be the most fun to contemplate, I also think this is the least likely path for Republicans to choose. I think they're going to have to lose another few elections -- and lose big time -- before the party truly realizes that the time for change has come.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


12 Comments on “The Republican Party's Three Options”

  1. [1] 
    db wrote:

    First off, I'll lay money we'll be doing the same dance come January. A few of the steps may be different, but you'll recognize the tune.

    There is a fourth option. Reminiscent of your discussion of the Whig Party earlier (& let me endorse YoYo's comments there) the Republican Party may fracture. I'm hearing that each wing may primary key figures of the other wing. Add the typical Republican "Def Con 1" election tactics & you've got a volatile mixture.

    Asking guys who were elected by lurching to the right to lurch to the center; is asking a lot. particularly if... see Primary above.

    Finally, I don't think Boehner's got the clout you attribute to him.

    BTW, I heard that joke about WW2 Air Force General Hap Arnold, "Son, those are the Japanese. The enemy's the US Navy.

  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    I guess ya'all are willing to talk about ANYTHING so as to take the focus off the train wreck that is obamacare..

    Obamacare woes widen as insurers get wrong data

    Insurers say the federal health-care marketplace is generating flawed data that is straining their ability to handle even the trickle of enrollees who have gotten through so far, in a sign that technological problems extend further than the website traffic and software issues already identified.

    How many different ways can obamacare frak up before ya'all concede that it is, indeed, a train wreck..

    Ya'all are the crew of the Titanic, assuring all the passengers that everything is fine, that the ship is a fine ship...


  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    CW, not to belabor the same point, but ya have some blocking ads again....

    Something about NADEX.....


  4. [4] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    I guess ya'all are willing to talk about ANYTHING so as to take the focus off the train wreck that is obamacare..

    Obamacare woes widen as insurers get wrong data

    Actually, I mentioned this in the last Friday talking points. Evidently it was not worded in hysterical enough language for you to notice?

  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    Actually, you didn't mention it.

    You mentioned something vague about IT problems and tech blogs..

    Basically, to there are 3 components to obamacare..

    1. Signup

    2. Farm out signees to the various insurance companies.

    3. Signees actually getting the care they signed up for..

    To date, obamacare has royally frak'ed up the first two of the components..

    Relatively speaking, no one can sign up and the wrong information is being sent to insurance companies...

    There is only one component left where obamacare can redeem itself..

    Considering all the frak-ups to date, obamacare better start unilaterally healing cancer and herpes if it is going to hit the break even point.. :D


  6. [6] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    According to the New York times about 50,000 people have signed up but many of those will have more work to do because of errors.

    This is what I posted. See the "errors". I guess I should have use lots of all caps and bolds to give it an hysterical tone? Your article talks about the same thing. People are signing up but due to errors between various systems, they will have to revisit their policy before getting the insurance due to a need to correct those errors.

    We are talking about the problems but because we don't agree with your train wreck assessment it doesn't count?

  7. [7] 
    Paula wrote:

    Michale: per this article:

    Here's a sample: "Contrary to mainstream media, Obamacare is not unpopular, the survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner found. Instead, 62 percent of 2012 voters polled a week into the House’s shutdown strongly supported the law. That is an increase from late September, when a New York Times/CBS poll found that 56 percent of voters wanted it upheld and fixed. The share of people fervertly opposing the law is fixed at 38 percent, both surveys found, showing that support for the Affordable Care Act is growing."

    No doubt you'll dismiss that, and why not? You've had a tough week what with your party's ass getting a good solid kicking and you've got to have something to fall back on.

    We can do battling polls and both believe we're right, but the proof will be in the pudding down the road. I will hope things get better and better and you can hope that they get worse.

    Chris: you did several good posts this week -- I was too busy to comment. RE: today's -- my bet would be they'll go with option 2 and continue the civil war through a few electoral debacles. They've all gotten so used to lying and basing everything they do/say on what Dems do, that their actual clear-thinking muscles have atrophied. Karl Rove comes out saying Obama had "led" these chumps into this trap, as an example. He was once considered brilliant and invincible.

  8. [8] 
    michty6 wrote:

    I think big business will (re)take the party. The millionaires and billionaires won't stand for the lunatics wrecking the economy and putting the tax cuts they want in jeopardy for much longer. The fact that the US Chamber of Commerce sided with Democrats on the shut-down says a lot...

    Unrelated, but another excellent piece on deficits:

  9. [9] 
    YoYoTheAssyrian wrote:

    It's really kind of funny, but when it comes to the debt ceiling and gov't shutdown fight, Republicans are in full on "We have never been at war with Eurasia. Eastasia has always been our enemy." I was listening to Hannity on one of my drives (Hey! know your "loyal opposition") And it's all Obamacare all the time, Gov't Shutdown? might as well as not even happened.

  10. [10] 
    YoYoTheAssyrian wrote:

    Well I will adjust my earlier comment, there was one guy telling the story of Washington at Trenton. Cause messing up drunken Germans is totally comparable to Cannae.

  11. [11] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Looks like Post Shut Down Comment Fatigue (PSDCF)is starting to wear off.

    Judging from the funding raising reports coming in, and the fact that you need to survive a primary to get into office, the Right Lurch will continue unabated.

    Top dogs like Cruz are basically fighting for the right to lose to Hillary. Romney 2.0. Further down the food chain, just plays well in Red Districts.

  12. [12] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    The fact that the US Chamber of Commerce sided with Democrats on the shut-down says a lot...

    to me it says those tea partiers may not be quite as crazy or misguided as we thought. as harmful as it may be in the short term, maybe throwing a monkey wrench into the gears of power could serve a higher purpose.


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