In the aftermath of the government shutdown two narratives have developed. The first, pushed largely by the media, is that the shutdown was a disaster and the GOP has had it with conservatives, particularly those elected in 2010 by the Tea Party insurgency, and is going to teach them a lesson. For instance, from today’s Washington Post:
The GOP establishment has embarked, once again, on a round of soul-searching. But this time, the question is: What will it take to save the Republicans from the self-destructive impulses of the tea party movement?
That the government shutdown was a political disaster for the party that engineered it is widely acknowledged, except by the most ardent tea partyers.
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.”
Lott seems to think his particularly feckless form of hardball politics is the way to go, back in September he was even more vocal in an interview with Mother Jones:
I asked Lott if his old GOP pals still serving in the Senate have lost control of their party. How do they feel about that? I inquired. Lott shook his head: “That Ted Cruz. They have to teach him something or cut his legs out from under him.”
Cut his legs out? Yeah, Lott replied with a chuckle. He noted that when he was in the House in the 1980s he mounted a campaign against a fellow Republican who had challenged him for a leadership post. “Took me two years,” he recalled. “But I got him. And he was out of the House.”
But this isn’t peculiar to Lott, the Post article goes on:
But tea-party-fueled primary challenges have backfired in recent election cycles by knocking out Republican candidates who might have won a general election in favor of fringe figures who had no chance.
This time, the establishment has vowed not to let that happen. Crossroads GPS, an independent group co-founded by Gillespie and GOP strategist Karl Rove, has quietly focused more of its resources on what one official described as “thorough candidate vetting.”
That’s another way of referring to opposition research about little-known potential candidates in Republican primaries that the group then shares with other organizations and donors. The idea is to get damaging information in circulation before it is too late to stop unviable contenders from becoming GOP nominees.
So if you want to know whose dirty little hands were on the opposition research sent to Chris Wallace before Senator Ted Cruz’s appearance on the Septemeber 22 editon of Fox News Sunday, now you know. It was Karl Rove and Crossroads GPS.
The other narrative that is obtaining currency in the GOP establishment media is “yeah, the shutdown was a disaster but we’re all on the same team and the argument was about tactics not about the outcome.” One of the best examples of this comes from National Review’s Jonah Goldberg (presumably Kathryn Jean Lopez and Katrina Trinko were resting while planning their coverage of the Romney 2016 campaign).
Such a statement will no doubt infuriate many conservatives who believe that the establishment is insufficiently committed to conservative principles. And that is an entirely fair complaint. But that criticism is about efficacy and passion, not policy or philosophy. And this is a hugely important distinction that has been deliberately airbrushed out of the picture painted by groups like Heritage Action and FreedomWorks. The inconvenient truth for these groups is that the current GOP establishment is more conservative than it has ever been.
In the recent internecine conservative donnybrook over the government shutdown, the insurgents insisted they were in an ideological struggle with the establishment. But there was precious little ideology involved. Instead, it was a fight over tactics and power. The Republican party almost unanimously opposed Obamacare, and the Republicans who’ve been in office far longer than Cruz & Co. have voted more than three dozen times to get rid of the disastrous program. And yet, the latecomers to the battle talk as if the veterans in the trenches were collaborators the whole time.
It is virtually impossible to square these perspectives and I think that Goldberg has completely misread the situation. The divide within the GOP now is more distinct than it has been anytime in my life… I cast my first presidential vote for Jimmy Carter. The divide is a classic “ruling class” versus “country class.” What Goldberg blithely describes as a difference over tactics is actually a difference over governing philosophy. If you believe you are in Washington to “do something” then the process is your god. You don’t filibuster. You argue that the president deserves his own nominees. You look for solutions.
Writing in Forbes, the Claremont Institute’s Dr. Angelo Codevilla points out that the real struggle is between those who represent the interests of their constituents and those who wish to rule their constituents (read the whole essay, it is indispensable to understanding what transpired over the past three weeks):
Thus by the turn of the twenty first century America had a bona fide ruling class that transcends government and sees itself at once as distinct from the rest of society – and as the only element thereof that may act on its behalf. It rules – to use New York Times columnist David Brooks’ characterization of Barack Obama – “as a visitor from a morally superior civilization.” The civilization of the ruling class does not concede that those who resist it have any moral or intellectual right, and only reluctantly any civil right, to do so. Resistance is illegitimate because it can come only from low motives. President Obama’s statement that Republican legislators – and hence the people who elect them – don’t care whether “seniors have decent health care…children have enough to eat” is typical.
Republican leaders neither parry the insults nor vilify their Democratic counterparts in comparable terms because they do not want to beat the ruling class, but to join it in solving the nation’s problems. How did they come to cut such pathetic figures?
In sum, the closer one gets to the Republican Party’s voters, the more the Party looks like Goldwater and Reagan. The closer one gets to its top, the more it looks like the ghost of Rockefeller. Consider 2012: the party chose for President someone preferred by only one fourth of its voters – Mitt Romney, whose first youthful venture in politics had been to take part in the political blackballing of Barry Goldwater.
This view is clearly articulated by Louisiana’s Charles Boustany:
In a sign of the internal backlash against the right wing of the House Republican Conference, Louisiana Republican Charles Boustany questioned the political allegiances and motivations of his tea party-aligned colleagues and said they had put the GOP majority at risk in the current shutdown fight.
“There are members with a different agenda,” Boustany said Wednesday in an interview in his office. “And I’m not sure they’re Republicans and I’m not sure they’re conservative.”
His comments came a day after rank-and-file House Republicans rejected a package to reopen the government authored by their own leader, Speaker John Boehner. The result is that a bipartisan Senate-authored deal to end the two-week government shutdown appears poised to pass with almost nothing of substance gained by House conservatives for the shutdown they precipitated.
“The speaker has said consistently unless we can put 218 votes up, and preferably more than that, our ability to negotiate is pretty much undermined and that’s the problem we’ve repeatedly found ourselves in,” said Boustany, who has served since 2005 and is a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee. “Look at payroll tax. Look at fiscal cliff. You can go on and on. There are a handful of members – the numbers sort of vary, it’s in the 20-30 range – that are enough to derail a Republican conservative agenda in the House.”
All the evidence points to the inevitable conclusion that the GOP establishment has little or no interest in furthering conservative goals, either fiscally or socially. They think we are rubes who can be fooled by waving meaningless votes in our faces and saying “I tried.”
This issue was not the three dozen Potemkin show-votes Goldberg mentioned, votes that did nothing to stop Obamacare. The issue was about taking action to gum up the wheels so the insurance subsidies never become another entitlement that cannot be killed. Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and a few other realized this. The establishment simply wanted a deal and to govern without any thought or consideration given to the downstream impact of another irrevocable stream of federal largess being used to buy votes.
They have been thoroughly corrupted by their desire to be at the table when the spoils are divvied up and completely co-opted by the Washington establishment Iron Triangle of media, interest groups, and lobbyists.
Some famous guy, I forget who, once said “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” Our first challenge is uniting our own house and there is no way that unity happens absent a wholesale purge of the GOP.