It is hard to miss the divide that separates Senate Republicans and House Republicans. And it is equally hard to miss how incapable of solving crises are lawmakers, no matter how willing and sensible, as opposed to the president.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of the House hardliners, went around and around with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. Wallace would ask if he was willing to default and Jordan would answer that House Republicans won’t allow the spending caps on the sequester to be changed. Wallace pointed out how rotten the GOP’s image is with the voters and Jordan would say they’re elected to “act on principle.” There is in short no sense of what is attainable and how one behaves when principle turns out to be incompatible with reality.
Then there are the Republican senators, with some obvious exceptions, who are caught between recalcitrant House members and Senate Democrats who want to give nothing to Republicans. On Face the Nation, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) (who recently led the charge of the sensible brigade against Sen. Ted Cruz in a behind-closed-doors tongue lashing) commented that “where we are now is that the defunding strategy was a zero sum strategy. And now we have a zero sum response. And the American people lose. So it’s time — I’m tired of the politics on both sides, time for us to resolve this.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) expressed what it is like to be caught between the hard-headed and the rock-ribbed:
McCain: I’m glad that negotiations are going on. I’m disappointed that twice they were close to a deal and the Democrats moved to go oppose, in light of the polling data. I’m very disappointed that the president of the United States has not played a more active role in this as Bill Clinton did back in ’95. I am very disappointed that the 12 of us, led by Senator Collins, Senator Ayotte, Senator Murkowski, Senator Klobuchar, Senator Manchin — we had a plan, and we wanted to present that plan. And the Democrat leadership squashed it. We were ready to go to the press gallery, OK? And the Democratic leadership said no. And I still wonder why, unless maybe it was too generous. So I’m hopeful that we will get negotiations. I hope the president will become engaged. Maybe we need to get — maybe we need to get Joe Biden out of the witness protection program because he has good relationships with…
Schieffer: We haven’t heard very much from him.
Let me — let me ask you this, Senator. Do you think it is possible to get a deal that does not get a majority of the Republicans in the House of Representatives?
McCain: You know, I don’t know, and I hate to tell the House Republicans what they should to. They resent it, and I understand that. I was once in the House and thought we were a bunch of snobs, which is probably true. But the fact is that — that they’re going to have to understand that we’re on a fool’s errand when we say that we’re going to defund Obamacare. Now that has all — that has all changed. And could I just mention one other thing? The director of national intelligence said that the shutdown is extremely damaging to our ability to defend this nation. Look, Al Qaida’s not in shutdown. And when I saw, as you did, these death benefits not being given to families, I’ll take — everybody take the blame. But it’s not acceptable to the American people. It’s not acceptable. And — and we should be sitting down, and the president should be engaged, and the Democrats, they better understand something. What goes around comes around. And if they try to humiliate Republicans, things change in American politics, and I know what it’s like to be in the majority and in the minority, and it won’t be forgotten. Now is the time to be magnanimous and sit down and get this thing done.
You see the problem. In a legislature it is easier by far to create chaos than to steer not only one but two bodies toward consensus. That may explain why New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) last week spoke for many of us when he joked, “If I was in the Senate right now, I’d kill myself. This is why I’ve never had any interest in being in a legislative body.” In a more serious vein, he explained,
“What I said to any of them that I met with: Get the government reopened, stop monkeying around, and get back to work. I said, I’m out there in the field, people have no patience for this stuff. None. . . . With what we see going on in Washington DC, right now they could use a dose of some New Jersey common sense. Notice I said New Jersey common sense, not Republican common sense or Democrat common sense.”
Sure, he is contrasting himself with potential 2016 rivals. But his point is sound: If you have a legislator’s mentality and no sense of how to rally both your side and the opposing side by appeal to a higher purpose, knotty problems won’t get resolved. You may make things worse (as Jim Jordan does) or try to appeal to more level-headed colleagues (as Ayotte and McCain do), but without executive will and ability, and without strong people skills, you won’t get far. And so we return to the GOP’s only hope: Any governor over any senator in 2016.