Even after the current standoff ends, at least temporarily, the GOP still will be suffering from the self-inflicted wounds of this debacle. The GOP is at its lowest favorability in polling history, and a huge majority of Americans consider Republicans to be the most responsible for the ill-conceived effort to defund Obamacare. The party, at least the elected branch of it in D.C., will need to shape up if it is to recover its standing, hold the House and have any shot at taking the Senate. “Unity” is generally a positive attribute for elected officials, but it is impossible and a recipe for disaster if a rump group is impervious to reason and not seeking an attainable legislative objective.
There are a number or remedial measures that would certainly help. Essentially, the goal is to bolster and energize the reality-based Republicans to take back their party and reset the public image of the GOP. These necessary counter-insurgency tactics include these 10:
1. Speaker of the House John Boehner (Ohio) needs a relatively stable majority of the majority to isolate and overrun House radicals. They are already there, but too many have been reluctant to separate themselves from the right-wingers whose actions and rhetoric drove the party into the political abyss. It can emerge organically, or House leadership could cultivate a loose coalition of the “reality caucus” to pull the House back from the brink. No shutdowns, no quixotic legislative stunts, no more episodes (like “Plan B” and the current shutdown) in which House extremism takes the body out of the final deal-making. Boehner’s style has been to indulge rather than confront the House hardliners. He should not quash discussion or prevent the House radicals from making their case, but the days of “Okay, let’s try it your way” need to end.
2. Voters, main street business leaders and governors need to push for attainable legislative goals and speak out against the excessive rhetoric of the hardliners in the House and Senate. The radicals succeed not because they control a majority of House or Senate Republicans or a majority of voting Republicans, but because sober voices have been mute and reality-based lawmakers cowed by the far right.
3. The conservative media should grow up. Simply because there is a louder, more extreme blog or radio talk show host or cable TV personality pursuing a damaging venture doesn’t mean that flagship publications or pundits who know better should join in. It looks a bit like a paunchy 60-something in a mid-life crisis trying to keep up with the most outlandish trend-setters. With the exception of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the unfortunate norm has been to parrot or encourage the antics of people such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), rather than provide exacting coverage and tough analysis before the damage is done.
4. Former Bush administration adviser and longtime Republican strategist Ed Gillespie, in a GOP gathering of the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (which assists state-level Republican candidates), observed that “our party might be better off if we spent more time speaking in positive terms about WHY we’re against those policies and, more importantly, why we’re FOR the policies we’re for—as our state Republican leaders do so consistently. . . . Short-hand process arguments that resonate strongly with people who already agree with us, but not really music to independent ears. We need to break out of a speech pattern that dwells on process, and discipline ourselves to talk about the benefits of Republican policies.” The focus of the Republican House should turn to a trade between spending caps and entitlement reform and conservative alternatives on health care, immigration, education and job training.
5. Present alternative candidates and party leaders. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), one of the most extreme voices in the House, is already facing a primary challenge from a moderate Republican. Whether by primary or by selective refusal to invest in counterproductive GOP incumbents, a message can be sent that extremism is politically dangerous.
6. Think tanks and responsible conservative media need to remind Republicans what conservatism actually is. As we did at Right Turn, Paul Gigot and Mary Kissel of the Wall Street Journal recently warned ” that the Heritage Foundation is misguided in their opposition to the repeal of the medical device tax within the Affordable Care Act.” From Mediaite:
“The corporate cronyism argument is nonsense,” he added when Kissel suggested that the repeal of that tax on medical device manufacturers amounts to corporate welfare.
“There’s a lot of economic nonsense that is creeping into the right as they get to be so disoriented as part of this debate,” Gigot observed.
He said that this tax on revenue, not profits, will stifle innovation in the medical device industry and it will negatively affect smaller manufactures.
Kissel observed that even Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) opposes this tax, though Gigot pointed out that many of these manufacturers which will be hardest hit are located in Massachusetts.
7. It is time to hold groups like Heritage Action accountable. Donors have every right to know how much the group is hauling in and how much has been spent attacking Republicans instead of Democrats. Likewise, supporters and scholars at Heritage Foundation have every right to demand the think tank and the political action group remain separate; if Jim DeMint is spending all his time on Heritage Action politicking, the foundation should get a full-time executive director devoted to scholarship.
8. If the right-wing challengers to incumbent Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) bomb at the polls, Republicans have every right to question the utility of groups devoted to helping the Democratic National Committee oust the GOP’s most stable figures.
9. Ex-governors have a lot to offer the party and the movement and can be a force for common-sense conservatives. An organization of respected conservative governors may be the closest to the ideal wise elder statesmen the GOP presently has. They’d be wise to organize and begin to draw on their political capital and credibility with voters.
10. Redefine “rock star.” The guy who plunges the party into a disastrous tailspin is not to be lauded, nor is Dr. Ben Carson, who equates Obamacare with slavery. The “rock stars” who should be celebrated are the ones who get results, clean up others’ messes, expand the party and reject the harsh rhetoric of the far right. Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) were right and Ted Cruz was wrong, so why throw bouquets at Cruz?
All of this requires self-examination and critical thinking. It necessitates a rejection of the money-hungry and ratings-addicted far right that profits at the expense of electoral victory. The GOP could use a single guiding light, but, for now, a few dozen sane voices would really come in handy.