Ross Douthat argues that the Republican Party’s intransigence on taxes is rendered rational by the Democratic Party’s cowardice on taxes. He’s right:
During the debt ceiling negotiations, I argued that by passing on a grand bargain today, Republicans were risking a bigger defeat on taxes down the road. The response that I got from more than a few conservatives was telling: They simply didn’t believe that the Democrats would ever muster the political will to actually let the Bush tax cuts expire. And if that assumption is correct, then the Republican refusal to bend on taxes makes all the sense in the world. If you don’t think your opposition can actually pull the trigger and fire the bullets in its gun, then why not wait till after the next election to cut a deficit deal? At best, you’ll have a Republican president and a better final package; at worst, the same basic bargain will still be on the table, because the Democrats won’t have the guts to take it off.
This is the reality that liberals need to face: Much of the Republican “intransigence” and “hostage-taking” and “terrorism” that they deplore is a direct consequence of the fact that Republicans assume that Democrats will always, always, cave on taxes. And so long as that assumption keeps getting vindicated by events, there’s no incentive for the G.O.P. to accede to sweeping compromises on deficit reduction. Why would you compromise with a party that won’t actually fight for the revenues required to pay for the programs it claims to want to protect? Why would you sign off on tax increases that your notionally pro-government opposition doesn’t want to sign off on themselves?
The interesting implication of this, which you see clearly in Ross’s post, is that moderate Republicans are being undermined by weak-kneed Democrats. After all, if centrist Republicans can’t credibly argue a hard-line position will lead to much higher taxes, they can’t credibly argue that the Republicans Party needs to compromise.