Brian Beutler has a nice article describing the problems House Republicans and Speaker John Boehner could face in 2012:
Boehner’s 2012 depends to a huge extent on how much the GOP conference is still spoiling for a fight. If they’re chastened by the horrendous month they had — and thus resigned to ceding the payroll tax issue to the Democrats — then Boehner will have it pretty easy. The payroll tax cut will be extended through the end of the year, and, in a sense, his original judgment will have been vindicated. His members won’t lead the party astray again. But if a substantial number of Republicans return from recess breathing fire, and try once again to use the expiring payroll tax cut to extract massive concessions from Democrats then Boehner and the rest of the GOP are likely in for a politically costly battle.
I think that’s essentially right, except for one part: It’s not really about Boehner. The tension that Beutler is describing isn’t between Boehner and the GOP conference; it’s between Republican radicals and reality. Reality says that Republicans aren’t going to shut down several agencies, aren’t going to repeal the Affordable Care Act, aren’t going to defund Planned Parenthood and aren’t going to do a lot of other things that they campaigned on. Not when Democrats still have a majority in the Senate and not while Barack Obama is in the White House.
More fundamentally, to use one of their spiritual godfather Newt Gingrich’s favorite words, the problem is that Republican radicals are, above all, dedicated to disagreeing with the president. Which makes it awfully hard to get anything passed that needs his signature. That’s the core problem, and it would be a problem no matter who was speaker of the House.
All of which helps explain how Republicans managed to end the year demanding (as Beutler points out) a full-year extension for a payroll tax cut that they never wanted in the first place; all it took was Obama asking for a short extension, and they wanted a long one.
As long as Republican radicals place confrontation with Obama as a basic goal, we’re going to have repeated threats of government shutdowns and other brinkmanship. The Newt Gingrich Republicans realized that after winter 1995-1996 and shifted gears. And while they still never got their ideal policies enacted, they did much better after that. The year 2012 may hold different incentives, especially if Obama’s reelection continues to look difficult or worse, but the biggest question here is going to be whether confrontation remains a key goal or not.