The Morning Plum: How the GOP can save itself from the Tea Party

October 18, 2013

Now that the government shutdown crisis is over, leaving the GOP brand in tatters, the news is filled with chatter about Republicans “reassessing” for the battles that come. As Karen Tumulty’s piece asks: “What will it take to save the Republicans from the self-destructive impulses of the tea party movement?”

One starting point might be to accept this as a given: There is probably nothing that Tea Party conservatives in the House will ever accept that could also prove acceptable to Obama and Senate Democrats, and therefore has a chance at becoming law. Therefore, if Republicans do want to enter into the normal give and take of governing — a big “if,” to be sure – it will require a willingness to rely on an alliance of non-Tea Party Republicans and Democrats to get things done.

This basic dynamic was obvious about the government shutdown fight from the very beginning, and that battle became a protracted crisis precisely because John Boehner postponed reckoning with it for as long as possible. His eventual acceptance of it is what ended the standoff.

Now it seems likely the same dynamic will apply in the coming battles over replacing the sequester and over immigration reform. Yet according to today’s reports, Republicans are drawing a very different lesson from this fiasco, and as always, it’s all about Obama. The New York Times’ big story today on Obama and GOP reassessment contains this tidbit on the GOP and immigration:

There was a lot of ill will among Republicans, who were angry at Mr. Obama for his refusal to bend or angry at one another for a failed strategy or both. Representative Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho told a Heritage Foundation forum on Wednesday that “it would be crazy” for House Republicans now to negotiate with the president on immigration, because “he’s trying to destroy the Republican Party.”

Rep. Labrador is a significant player on immigration, so this matters. And it’s a terribly stupid lesson to take from what just happened. Republicans didn’t lose the shutdown fight because Obama is trying to destroy their party. They lost it because the Tea Party fantasy outcome was never going to happen. It was rooted in a deeply unhinged view of how governing should work that Dems were never, ever, ever going to accept. It took GOP leaders too long to accept this and act accordingly.

And so, with polls showing the GOP brand has cratered, the focus should come back to a reality-based assessment of whether Republicans think they need to show they can govern again. The answer to that may be No, they don’t, because their House majority is invulnerable. If so, we won’t get immigration reform, and there will be no budget deal, and we’ll get another chaotic battle over another clean CR, and possibly (but far less likely) one over the next debt limit hike. We’ll continue lurching from crisis to crisis, and we’ll find out in November 2014 what it all means politically.

But if the answer is Yes, you’d think that at some point, this has to stop being all about Obama all the time, and more about how Republicans are going to find their way back to entering into basic policy give and take with Democrats. This will require accepting as a given that Tea Party conservatives will probably never accept anything that results from compromises reached within conventional governing norms, and shaping the party’s approach around that reality.

* SCALED DOWN HOPES FOR BUDGET TALKS: Meanwhile, Republicans have flatly ruled out any new revenues in the budget talks, which would seem to dim the prospects for any deal. Jonathan Weisman reports that budget negotiators are eying a much less ambitious set of goals:

To improve the prospects for some success, the negotiators largely agreed at a closed-door breakfast on Thursday that a deal involving significant new tax revenues and large-scale changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, whose growth in an aging population is driving long-term projections of growing debt, is not going to happen.       

Instead, they agreed, the talks will aim at a more modest, confidence-building measure to replace the sequestration cuts in 2014. Negotiators could aim higher, for a deal saving at least $1 trillion over the next nine years to substitute completely for the arbitrary sequestration cuts. But neither side was hopeful of that.

It needs to be reiterated that Republicans actually have more leverage in these talks, because continuing the sequester is more acceptable to them than to Democrats. But even so, deep GOP divisions could make it impossible for House Republicans to pass anything funding the government.

* WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH OBAMACARE’S TERRIBLE ROLLOUT? Jonathan Cohn has a very comprehensive and very fair look at the problem-plagued rollout of the health law. The website disaster is unforgiveable; and it’s possible the administration will have to find alternate methods of enrollment in the exchanges or even extend the open enrollment period. But there’s still time to fix the problems; individual states are getting it right; demand is high; and the history of other reforms suggests Obamacare has a decent chance of righting itself and eventually succeeding.

Despite the glee of Obamacare foes, this is a complicated, unsettled story whose outcome won’t be clear for many months. Read the whole thing.

* MORE TERRIBLE OBAMACARE PROBLEMS: The Wall Street Journal reports:

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.

As Cohn notes, this is only part of the story. But that’s no excuse. And now that the shutdown crisis is over, the national media will focus hard on Obamacare’s woes, meaning more will likely come to light and the story could compound itself, potentially dissuading people from signing up.

* NONSTOP DISSEMBLING ABOUT OBAMACARE: Glenn Kessler has an excellent takedown of Ted Cruz’s recent claims about Obamacare, including the assessment that “millions of Americans are hurting” because of the law. The key point Kessler makes is that the law’s critics refuse to factor into their assessments those who are gaining from it. And this:

The full impact of the health care law will not be known for years, and there are bound to be winners and losers in any major change in social policy…he does not allow at all for the possibility that millions of people are benefiting from the law — and that quite likely the number of winners from the law is larger than the losers.

The refusal to accept this is another way that normal debate about the law – one that includes an assessment of its downsides and upsides, its trade-offs — has become impossible.

* DEM CHANCES TO WIN BACK HOUSE EDGE UP: The Cook Political Report has shifted its ratings in 14 races in the direction of Democrats, mostly because of damage the GOP sustained in the shutdown. Cook’s David Wasserman gives his bottom line on how to tell whether a Dem “wave” is building:

First, is there a surge in Democrats’ recruiting?…Second, will at least a few Republicans in winnable districts retire?…Third, do we begin to see high quality, district-level polling showing previously semi-secure GOP incumbents tied with or trailing named Democratic challengers, even if those incumbents voted to end the shutdown?

Still, Cook says Dems have a long way to go, and estimates only 17 GOP-held seats are genuinely gettable for Dems. Also, memories of the shutdown are likely to fade. But as DCCC chair Steve Israel said the other day, the possibility of more GOP shutdown and debt limit crises in 2014 remains real.

* WHY THE VIRGINIA GUBERNATORIAL CAMPAIGN MATTERS: Ron Brownstein has an interesting look at how Dem Terry McAuliffe’s embrace of liberal positions on social issues, gun control, and immigration highlights the Democratic Party’s larger increasing reliance on its new coalition of minorities, young voters, and college educated whites. Other red/purple state Dems are following this trend, and if McAuliffe wins, it will cement the emerging consensus that Dems should continue embracing liberal positions and rely less and less on the culturally conservative whites Dems used to fear alienating.

* AND THE QUOTE OF THE DAY, TEA PARTY SABOTAGE GOVERNING EDITION: This quote from Tea Party chieftain Jim DeMint, on why Tea Partyers should not accept that “elections have consequences,” and hence that they should accept Obamacare is here to stay, says it all:

ObamaCare was not the central fight in 2012, much to the disappointment of conservatives. Republicans hoped that negative economic news would sweep them to victory, and exit polls confirmed that the economy, not health care, was the top issue. The best thing is to declare last year’s election a mistrial on ObamaCare.

And there you have it. The 2012 election didn’t decide anything at all! Further confirmation that the Tea Party will continue demanding the GOP maintain a Total War posture against the law, whatever the consequences in 2014.

What else?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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Ryan Cooper | October 17, 2013