Tough times for the far right

Times are tough for the extreme, anti-internationalist right which has been championed by a segment of the GOP House and Senate and is promulgated (and largely funded by) a set of inside-the Beltway groups expert on raising money and sowing dissension among Republicans. The House and Senate GOP leadership ignored their pleas, passed a debt-ceiling bill and thereby avoided a replay of last October’s shutdown armageddon.

Students attend a Defund Obamacare rally in Tennessee. (Luke Sharrett for The Washington Post)
Students attend a Defund Obamacare rally in Tennessee. (Luke Sharrett for The Washington Post)

Heritage Action, a prime player in this D.C.-based racket, held a conference trying to insist it stands for something other than shutting down the government and returning to the pre-Progressive era. Ironically a number of the speakers in attendance have gotten rotten “grades” from, you guessed it, Heritage Action.

The favorite primary challengers of groups like the Madison Project and Senate Conservatives Fund, Matt Bevin and Milton Wolf, are trailing incumbents in Kentucky and Kansas, respectively, by embarrassingly large margins and have run into the kind of predictable trouble that befalls untested candidates.

On foreign policy, the non-interventionist strategy in Syria, favored by some in the conservative media and a slim segment of elected House and Senate Republicans and the president, has uniformly been recognized as a disaster. Likewise, the notion of “containing” Iran propagated by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has been thoroughly  repudiated by most every elected Republican.

Even on the National Security Agency, the hard right is engendering controversy and no small amount of bitter criticism from respected conservative voices. In taking apart the NSA suit championed by Rand Paul and Ken Cuccinelli (who previously was respected for his effort to challenge Obamacare) former prosecutor Andy McCarthy delivers a devastating blow:

By its straightforward terms, the Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches of “their persons, houses, papers, and effects.” The metadata records collected by the NSA are not even Senator Paul’s own property; they belong to various phone companies (to whom the court’s Section 215 production orders are directed). So if we’re going to be constitutional conservatives — you know, faithful to the original meaning of the Framers’ handiwork — exactly what part of Senator Paul’s person, house, papers, or effects are business records that belong to a third party, not to him?

No part, of course. What is confirmed in Senator Paul’s lawsuit is that he is not relying on the original Fourth Amendment but on the kind of “organic” judicial hocus-pocus that self-styled constitutional conservatives purport to reject — in this instance, the “expectation of privacy” test. Paragraph 16 of the lawsuit avers that Paul and other people who make phone calls “hold subjective expectations of privacy over their collected, retained, and searched telephone metadata.”

McCarthy notes that the suit tries unsuccessfully to get around clear Supreme Court precedent by burying it in a footnote prefaced with “But See.” (“In the litigation biz, a ‘but see [fill in the case citation]’ footnote or clause is how lawyers fulfill their ethical obligation to alert the court to precedent that is relevant (there’s that word again) and that cuts against some argument they are making. Generally speaking, you do not use a ‘but see’ footnote for a Supreme Court ruling that destroys your case. Instead, you refrain from filing your lawsuit in the first place.”)

There is, to be frank, a clownish like quality to the far right’s antics. They seize upon flaky candidates to challenge mainstream Republican candidates, while ignoring Democratic incumbents whose presence allows Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to rule the Senate roost. They seem to have learned little from the shutdown debacle.

Peter Wehner deliciously reminds sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) that the shutdown fight is not forgotten: “I remember how, thanks in good part to the shutdown, the GOP received the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992. . . . I remember that Senator Cruz, in the months leading up to the shutdown, accused those who disagreed with his approach of being part of the ‘surrender caucus.’” He concludes, “And I remember that Senator Cruz did what he did because he cared so much about being praised by populist parts of the Republican base. I remember it was obvious the tactic Mr. Cruz was pushing was destined to fail, that he went ahead with it anyway, and that now he’d like reporters to talk about things other than his role in the government shutdown.”

Do these people sound like credible and competent standard bearers?

On policy the far right too often ignores reality (be it in the Constitution or on the ground in the Middle East). On immigration they seem to have bought into the notion that any immigration (legal or otherwise) that brings workers into the country is bad for our economy. The assertion — forget for a moment the economic impact of deporting 11 million people — is preposterous. (Researcher Matthew Mullin  and others provide a comprehensive and devastating rebuttal to the “immigrants will ruin the economy” argument, citing piles of data collected over the last decade or so.)

George F. Will described the anti-immigration viewpoint thusly: “Progressives often are ambivalent about scarcities because they see themselves as administrators of rationing. But President Bill Clinton, refuting opposition — much of it from Democrats — to the North American Free Trade Agreement, splendidly said: ‘Protectionism is just a fancy word for giving up.’ Opposition to immigration because the economy supposedly cannot generate sufficient jobs is similar defeatism. Zero-sum reasoning about a fixed quantity of American opportunity is for a United States in a defensive crouch, which is not for conservatives.”

The brain trust at Heritage Action, Senate Conservatives Fund, FreedomWorks and other similar-minded outfits seems to believe that if they stake out the most extreme position on everything from the budget to immigration they will pull the GOP with them to the right. There is no evidence they’ve done so in the last five years, but they have blown a bunch of Senate races. More troublesome, they’ve resorted to specious arguments and ignored domestic and international reality, thereby taking themselves out of the debate.

The next GOP presidential nominee must reach all elements of the party, by appealing to hard facts,  conservative common sense and recent experience. Hopefully that will be sufficient to wean the overwhelming number of Republicans from the new dark ages of the far right into a sunnier and more sensible brand of conservatism that embraces good policy and good politics. In doing so, such a candidate can also reach the large center of U.S. politics that has been turned off by the left’s embrace of counterproductive statism and international weaknesses. That should more than make up for loss of the few determined holdouts who’d rather be martyrs (and moneymakers) in an era of a Democratic-controlled federal government.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.
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Jennifer Rubin | February 16