For some time now, a number of us on the left have been arguing that the GOP seems to be in the grip of a kind of “post-policy nihilism,” in which Republicans are no longer being guided by any real policy “asks,” and instead are chronically positioning themselves only in opposition to the president.
In making this case, liberals are motivated mainly by a desire for a non-pathological opposition that will come to accept the idea that getting some of what it wants through compromise is preferable to scorched earth opposition. The problem is that it’s unclear whether Republicans actually want anything meaningful in terms of policy at this point, or if so, what it is.
Today, a right-leaning writer, The Post’s Michael Gerson, weighs in with a very similar case, but from a different angle — this failure to articulate a genuine policy alternative to Obama, he says, risks harming the GOP over the long term. He notes that the GOP faces a series of complicated political challenges — boosting support among Latinos, becoming more socially inclusive and speaking to people’s economic concerns. Gerson concludes:
All of these Republican goals demand a response more sophisticated than simple obstruction. For the GOP, politics is not a zero-sum game — and I don’t mean this in a good way. It is entirely possible for Obama to lose on a variety of issues and for Republicans to lose as well, in ways that make future victories less likely. Supporting a perfectly constitutional expansion of gun background checks might have been an opportunity for Republicans to display some rationality in public, even if it marginally aided a lame-duck president. Undermining immigration reform would be a terrible miscalculation, even if Obama is hurt.
At the end of eight years, Americans will probably be tired of Obama and perhaps of liberalism. The GOP will get another look. It would be a final victory for the president if Republicans focused on defeating him rather than on deserving victory.
No doubt many conservatives would regard Gerson as a “squish,” as Ted Cruz might put it. But surely plenty of Republicans agree with Gerson. After all, the GOP’s image is not only in the toilet; it’s been flushed into the sewers. A recent Pew poll found that only 23 percent of Americans believe the GOP is “in touch with the concerns of most people in the United States today.” Pew pollster Andrew Kohut recently concluded that the GOP is as estranged from the middle as the Democratic Party was in the late 1960s and early 1970s, thanks to “the outsize influence of hardline elements in the party base.”
For now, Republican officials appear to only recognize a problem when it comes to immigration, mainly because demographic realities have become impossible to ignore. So many are swallowing hard and preparing to buck the base by embracing citizenship. But there’s no genuine effort to change on other fronts. On guns, Republicans could have celebrated their killing of the assault weapons ban, and accepted some form of expanded background checks in exchange for an “ask” of their own — say, on mental health or school security. Instead, they killed a proposal backed by over eight in 10 Americans. On gay rights, even the RNC autopsy recognized a need to keep pace with generational and cultural shifts — whereupon the RNC promptly renewed its opposition to gay marriage as the party’s official position.
Republicans will argue that people don’t vote on guns, and will point to their tactical victory in the FAA battle as evidence that things are going better for them than the doomsayers claim. But is being the party of austerity-only-and-forever really a sustainable long term posture? As Gerson puts it: “There is no economic value or political appeal in austerity for its own sake.” Meanwhile, Republicans are preparing for another debt limit standoff, which will underscore the party’s addiction to crisis-to-crisis governing — even though what they want out of the standoff remains unclear. On health care, Republicans currently see political gold on the horizon in Obamacare’s implementation, and continue to feed the base’s repeal fantasies — while continuing to refuse to offer any serious alternative.
Maybe Republicans are right that talk about the GOP’s image problem is overblown. After all, they may make gains in 2014. But I continue to wonder: Do Republicans believe there is any point at which the party’s opposition to popular reforms and refusal to detail any meaningful policy alternative create an unshakable sense that the party is no longer capable of tackling the country’s major challenges? Is there a point at which the party’s image actually will begin to matter in some concrete way to the party’s national aspirations?
* A GOP nightmare on immigration reform? Indeed, even immigration reform may be in peril, thanks to the GOP base. Buzzfeed reports that Republican officials who want immigration reform are suddenly fearing the prospect of a rerun of 2007, when a fierce backlash from the right killed immigration reform. Here’s what that could look like, according to GOP strategist Paul Wilson:
“If [the legislation] stalls or is killed off by conservatives, we could take the Hispanic community and turn them into the African-American community, where we get four percent on a good day … We could be a lost party for generations.”
As I’ve been saying, the absolute worst political outcome for the GOP — and its efforts to repair relations with Latinos — is for far right Republicans in the House to kill reform. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the backlash from the right will prove as fearsome as advertised…
* Jim DeMint gears up to kill immigration reform: The Tea Party chieftain may no longer be in the Senate, but from his new think tank perch he’s busily hatching rationales that will be used by the right in the campaign to kill any hopes at real immigration reform. Among them: The bill is being negotiated in secret; and newly legalized immigrants will become takers of federal benefits (the path to citizenship is 13 years long).
DeMint claims he favors reform, but in a piecemeal approach; and of course, any citizenship is “amnesty.”
* Pressuring Kelly Ayotte on guns: With Congress in recess, the GOP Senator from New Hampshire is holding three town hall meetings this week at which she’ll face pressure from constituents, organized by gun reform groups, to explain and reverse her vote on Manchin-Toomey. Meanwhile, the NRA is running ads featuring the bogus talking point that Manchin-Toomey wouldn’t have stopped Sandy Hook (this isn’t just about that one shooting; we’re dealing with a broader epidemic that kills tens of thousands per year).
Now is the time for the gun reform side to show that a political price can be extracted from Senators for their No vote — so keep an eye on New Hampshire this week.
* Dems gird for another fight over Obamacare: Republicans are signaling that they intend to make Obamacare a central issue in the 2014 Congressional elections, and while that didn’t work in 2012, Republicans are betting that implementation problems will make it a liability for Dems. Even Dem pollsters are warning of trouble ahead:
“We already know that, left to its own devices, this doesn’t end up in a good place,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster. “Anyone who thinks this issue is done is fooling themselves.”
Dems can’t afford to be sanguine about the politics of implementation, so they’ll need a political strategy to deal with it. We’ll have more on this here.
* Our bleak economic prospects: Steven Rattner paints a very bleak picture indeed: Our economy is essentially stuck in neutral, with stagnating wages depressing demand, and sequester cuts continuing in place of the investments in research, education and worker training we need, even as the political establishment is unwilling or unable to act on anything except flight delays. Let’s hope it’s transitory, as previous economic pauses have been.
* Obama’s disappointing record on campaign finance: Juliet Eilperin has the rundown on all the ways in which the president’s push to reduce the influence of big money in politics has fallen far short of what campaign finance reformers had hoped. Of course, whatever Obama’s failings, Congressional Republicans render it unlikely that we’d get any meaningful reform, no matter how hard Obama pushed for it, let alone the dream of a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
* And your sorely needed Tuesday comic relief, Michele Bachmann edition: Glenn Kessler has a great one here: Rep. Bachmann is now claiming she originally voted against the Budget Control Act, which created the sequester, because she foresaw that it would result in deep spending cuts that hurt poor people, which she termed “calamities.” In reality, as Kessler documents, at the time she voted against it while claiming it would not cut spending enough.
Accepting Bachmann’s concern over cuts to the poor as sincere, what’s being demonstrated here again is that if you want to cut spending, you have to actually cut spending on programs that impact real, live human beings.