Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Rebranding Of The Republican Party As A Force For Willfully Destructive Anarchy


This morning the Senate voted to keep the government up and running through December 11 with a huge bipartisan vote, 78-20. All 20 extremists who voted for a shut down were sociopaths determined to prosecute the Republican Party's War On Women. Rubio, a coward who can't decide what he is, was afraid to commit himself and ducked the vote entirely. Of the 20 Republicans voting to shut down the government, the 5 most likely to be significantly hurt in next year's elections are Pat Toomey (R-PA), Dean Heller (R-NV), Richard Burr (R-NC), John Boozman (R-AR), Roy Blunt (R-MO). Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, who are running for the GOP presidential nomination, have to work this vote into their electoral calculus, easy for Cruz, more nuanced for Paul. Vitter's vote to shut down the government could also impact his struggling gubernatorial campaign back in Louisiana. The full list of the shut down senators:
Roy Blunt (R-MO)
John Boozman (R-AR)
Richard Burr (R-MC)
Dan Coats (R-IN)
Tom Cotton (R-AR)
Mike Crapo (R-ID)
Ted Cruz (R-TX)
Dean Heller (R-NV)
James Inhofe (R-OK)
James Lankford (R-OK)
Mike Lee (R-UT)
Jerry Moran (R-KS)
Rand Paul (R-KY)
James Risch (R-ID)
Ben Sasse (R-NE)
Tim Scott (R-SC)
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions (KKK-AL)
Richard Shelby (R-AL)
Pat Toomey (R-PA)
David Vitter (R-LA)
Boehner plans to ram the same CR (continuing resolution) through the House today with lots of Democratic support and not so much support from his own crackpot conference. The CR, of course, did not include Cruz's poison pill to defund Planned Parenthood, something his allies are expected to try-- and fail, just as Cruz did in the Senate-- to add in the House.

Geoffrey Kabaservice is a good writer and, for a Republican, a smart guy, and I don't mean to disparage him or his work, especially not his book Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party. This week, though, in his op-ed for the NY Times, "Anarchy in the House," he mistakenly categorizes the two sides of the Republican civil war that is currently raging in Congress as a fight between "comparatively moderate and conservative factions." 

There are no moderates in this fight. It is, in reality, a battle between conservatives-- albeit some who could be called "mainstream conservatives"-- and reactionaries and radical extremists. Boehner is a hard-core conservative by every reasonable definition, as are his congressional allies. The enemies within the GOP who brought him down are not conservatives. A conservative and a reactionary are two different species. A conservative, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is someone "believing in the value of established and traditional practices in politics and society." A reactionary, on the other hand, is "someone who favors reaction," as in "a reverse movement or tendency; an action in a reverse direction or manner." 

In short, a conservative wants to keep things the way they are. A reactionary wants to take things backwards to the way they used to be.

Kabaservice points out that in the early 1960s realism was kicked out of the Republican ideology. "The radicals who coalesced around Senator Barry Goldwater’s insurgent presidential campaign were zealots," he wrote.
They had no interest in developing a governing agenda. Their program consisted mainly of getting rid of the New Deal and every other government effort to promote the general welfare. As Goldwater famously wrote: "My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones."
That strain of reactionary thought-- along with the bigotry and hatred that usually accompany it-- is what is running rampant in today's GOP. That's what Ted Cruz is all about... to a T.
Goldwater’s followers viewed any Republicans who wanted to govern as traitors to be stamped out. They accused their own leadership of conspiring with Democrats to thwart conservatives; the theme of betrayal from within had been the essence of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s populist appeal. They had no strategy other than taking over the party and nominating Goldwater. He would win the 1964 election, they believed, because a hidden majority would flock to the polls when presented with a candidate who wasn’t what we would now call “politically correct.”

Years ago, I wrote a history of the Republican civil war between the moderates and radicals of the Goldwater era. I’m sufficiently alarmed, watching history repeat itself, that I now work as a research consultant for the Main Street Partnership, an organization of over 70 members of Congress who represent the moderate-conservative wing of the Republican Party. Their rivals are members of the Freedom Caucus, who would rather close the government than compromise.

Once again, the battle is between Republicans who want to govern and those who don’t. The radicals have no realistic alternative solutions of their own. Even to contemplate the negotiations and compromises such policies entail would sully their ideological purity.

Senator Goldwater, despite his brave talk of repeal, was an isolated, powerless legislator. The extremists who opposed John A. Boehner as speaker are likewise a small faction without the ability to accomplish any positive program. InsideGov, a government watchdog site, recently came up with a list of the least effective members of Congress, as determined by the percentage of bills they sponsored that went on to pass committee. Ideological extremism correlates closely with legislative impotence.

That’s unsurprising, since many members of the Freedom Caucus put a higher priority on scoring purity points than on carrying out the nation’s business. Its chairman, Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, is, by this accounting, the second-least effective member of Congress. The only one who’s even less effective is another longtime critic of Mr. Boehner, Representative Steve King of Iowa, not one of whose 94 sponsored bills has passed the committee stage. Most of Mr. Boehner’s harshest critics lurk at the bottom of the Lugar Center’s Bipartisanship Index. Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who triumphantly tweeted “Today the establishment lost” after Mr. Boehner’s resignation, is ranked last.

The Republican Party’s unhappy ideological adventure in the early ’60s ended in disaster. Goldwater not only lost the election in a landslide, but he dragged down the entire Republican ticket. The main result of conservative overreach was to hand President Lyndon B. Johnson the liberal supermajority he needed to pass Medicare and Medicaid.

The present resurgence of anti-governing conservatism is also likely to end badly for Republicans. The extremists have the ability to disrupt the Congress, but not to lead it. Their belief that shutdowns will secure real concessions is magical thinking, not legislative realism. And the more power they gain, the less likely it becomes that a Republican-controlled Congress can pass conservative legislation, or indeed any legislation at all.

It’s true that sometimes no legislation is better than bad legislation. But the United States faces real problems, including stagnant wages, family instability, infrastructure collapse and long-term indebtedness. If Republicans can’t advance their own solutions, they’ll have to deal with what Democrats-- or harsh realities-- impose on them. Paralysis is not a plan.

The rebranding of Republicanism as a force for anarchy has spilled into the presidential contest and threatens the general election chances of the eventual nominee. The Republican establishment, and the party’s governing majority, have the power to quell this insurgency, whether by abandoning the so-called Hastert rule, which requires a majority of the majority to approve of legislation before it can come up for a vote, or by mounting primary challenges of their own. It’s too late for Mr. Boehner to face down the radicals, but his successor will have to if the Republican Party is to have a meaningful future.

As if this weren't painful enough for Republicans, it's being played out in the context of a superfluous battle royale between self-servers with little to no interest in the Republican Party running for the party's presidential nomination: multimillionaire failed business executive Carly Fiorina, former pediatric surgeon and Fox News contributor Ben Carson, and of course Trumpy the Clown.

This week, in a NY Times Magazine profile, Mark Leibovich took the deep dive into the fetid waters of Trumpism and Trump. His first sentence is from Trump himself: "I don't worry about anything." Now Trump is worth $4.5 billion (less than half of what he spuriously claims, according to Forbes), so he probably doesn't worry about the same things normal people worry about. But he worries, all right. Bank on it. For one thing, he seems obsessed with the idea that people will see him as a loser. (We'll come back to that in a moment.)
The Trump campaign may be a win-win for Trump, but it is a monstrous dilemma for a lot of other people. It is a dilemma for the Republican Party and a dilemma for the people Trump is running against. They would love to dismiss him as a sideshow and declare his shark jumped, except he keeps dominating the campaign and the conversation, and they have no clue whether to engage, attack, ignore or suck up in response. It is a dilemma for the elected leaders, campaign strategists, credentialed pundits and assorted parasites of the "establishment." They have a certain set of expectations, unwritten rules and ways of doing things that Trump keeps flouting in the most indelicate of ways. And, of course, it is a dilemma for the media, who fear abetting a circus.

... Getting close to Trump is nothing like the teeth-­pulling exercise that it can be to get any meaningful exposure to a candidate like, say, Hillary Clinton. This is a seductive departure in general for political reporters accustomed to being ignored, patronized and offered sound bites to a point of lobotomy by typical politicians and the human straitjackets that surround them. In general, Trump understands and appreciates that reporters like to be given the time of day. It’s symbiotic in his case because he does in fact pay obsessive attention to what is said and written and tweeted about him. Trump is always saying that so-and-so TV pundit "spoke very nicely" about him on some morning show and that some other writer "who used to kill me" has now come around to "loving me." There is a Truman Show aspect to this, except Trump is the director-- continually selling, narrating and spinning his story while he lives it.

... I asked whether he had ever experienced self-doubt. The question seemed to catch Trump off guard, and he flashed a split second of, if not vulnerability, maybe non­swagger. "Yes, I think more than people would think," he told me. When? "I don’t want to talk about it." He shrug-­smirked. "Because, you know-- probably more than people would think. I understand how life can go. Things can happen." This was a rare moment when Trump’s voice trailed off, even slightly. He then handed me a sheet of new polling data that someone had put on his desk. "Beautiful numbers," he said, inviting me to take them with me.

... Trump makes no attempt to cloak his love of fame and, admirably, will not traffic in that tiresome politicians’ notion that his campaign is "not about me, it’s about you." The ease with which Trump exhibits, and inhabits, his self-­regard is not only central to his "brand" but also highlights a kind of honesty about him. He can even seem hostile to any notion of himself as humble servant-- that example of mod­esty that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln strove for.

The idea of a president as Everyman stands at odds with his glamorized vision for the nation. The president should be a man apart, exceptional and resplendent in every way. "Jimmy Carter used to get off Air Force One carrying his luggage," Trump said. "I used to say, 'I don’t want a president carrying his luggage.'" Carter was a nice man, Trump allowed. "But we want someone who is going to go out and kick ass and win." Which apparently cannot be done by someone "who’s gonna come off carrying a large bag of underwear."

... Resentment of this class has built over several years. It has been expressed on both sides, by the rise of insurgent movements like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street (Trump’s railing against fund-­raiser "blood money," "bloodsucker" lobbyists and Wall Street "paper pushers" would play well across the board). As a reporter in Washington, I, too, have grown exceedingly weary of this world-- the familiar faces, recycled tropes and politics as usual-- and here was none other than Donald J. Trump, the billionaire blowhard whom I had resisted as a cartoonish demagogue, defiling it with resonance. He tacked not to the left or to the right, but against the "losers" and "scumbags" in the various chapters of the club: the pundits who "wear heavy glasses" and "sit around the table," the "political hacks" selling out American interests overseas. Karl Rove "is a totally incompetent jerk," Trump told the crowd in Dallas, referring to the Fox News commentator and chief Republican strategist of the George W. Bush years. The crowd went nuts at the Rove put-down, which in itself is remarkable-- the "architect" of Bush’s political ride being abused by a right-­leaning crowd in Bush’s home state.

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