And that near-unanimity presents an opportunity for the establishment to strike back — and maybe regain some control from the insurgent wing.
“You roll them,” advised former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). “I do think we need stronger leadership, and there’s got to be some pushback on these guys who think they came here with all the solutions.”
Only then, he said, can the party begin to push an agenda and “get things done,” rather than obstruct.
Added another Mississippian, former governor Haley Barbour: “They need to get back on substance.” Barbour noted that the upcoming conference committee on the fiscal 2014 budget presents an opportunity to do that.
Some of the GOP’s leading figures sound as though they have all but given up on Washington.
“Where the party goes from here is to the states,” said Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman. “The party writ large is discouraged with Washington.”
Gillespie is putting most of his energy into the Republican State Leadership Committee, an organization he heads that seeks to elect Republicans to statewide offices. And he noted that some of the party’s biggest stars these days are its governors, who are far removed from the morass in Washington.
The shutdown strategy — to use must-pass bills to fund the government and lift the federal debt ceiling as leverage to gut the new health-care law — never had a chance of succeeding.
And it has left the Republicans with their lowest approval ratings in the history of polling on that topic.
“We’ve got to do a better job of working as a team and having a clear message,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “I’m optimistic we will after this experience.”
Yet there is no guarantee that the Republicans won’t be back in a similar position as soon as January, when another funding bill will be needed.
“We’ll be looking for any opportunity,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), one of the sponsors of the failed strategy. “We took a shot at it and we fell short, and I think we are waiting around for another battle over Obamacare.”
To avoid a replay of the past few weeks, Republicans must figure out how to deal with several dozen of their most bellicose junior members in the House, and unapologetic figures such as Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) who have built a national following and fundraising base on the strength of their obstructionism.
What makes that more difficult, however, is that the tea party movement and some of the groups with which it is aligned have been aggressive about mounting primary challenges to incumbents they deem insufficiently committed to their cause.
Early Thursday, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin posted on her Facebook page: “Be energized. We’re going to shake things up in 2014. Rest well tonight, for soon we must focus on important House and Senate races. Let’s start with Kentucky — which happens to be awfully close to South Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi.”