When the Tea Party movement emerged in early 2009 I incorrectly dismissed it. In the long run I will be proven correct in that it will be an asterisk in American history. (I still think it is a shame that the moniker Know Nothings was already taken in American politics. They too ended up being an asterisk.) Admittedly it has lasted longer and had a larger impact than I had anticipated. Today it threatens the long-term viability of the Republican Party. Let’s explore.
The radical right wing of the GOP enabled Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 Republican Presidential Primary. He certainly wasn’t the favorite of the GOP establishment. It is at best highly questionable if Trump is either a Republican or a conservative in the true senses of the words.
Earlier this month Trump brokered a deal with the Democrats to raise the debt ceiling and keep the federal government from shutting down at the end of the month. Certain terms of the deal were less than politically optimal for the GOP and many among them are furious. A deal with the Democrats was necessary because despite numerical Republican majorities in both chambers the leaders (particularly Paul Ryan in the House) can’t keep their caucuses together. While the Mitch McConnell Republican Senate is substantially cohesive the House GOP caucus is a combination of Romper Room and a coalition. Ryan is a lousy leader as was John Boehner before him but I’m not sure anyone could manage this collection.
The Republican Party is in the midst of a civil war and their theoretical leader (President Trump) is among the insurgents to a great degree. Former White House senior aide and influential right wing “thought” leader, Steve Bannon recently met with House Freedom Caucus Leader (read: Tea Party) Representative Mark Meadows about the possibility of replacing Ryan as Speaker. This is a crew that can’t pass legislation or fill staffing vacancies but they somehow have time to contemplate “eating their own young”.
On the outside chance that somehow a Bannon-Meadows led group could oust Ryan that would only make things worse. The result would be a situation where the passage of substantial legislation would be greatly diminished and there is a very good chance even must pass legislation would languish in the Congress. The result could be a complete failure of the federal government to deliver even basic services. Remember Bannon’s goal is to blow the whole thing up. Much like the failed health care “repeal and replace” scheme, no real alternative plan has been offered because nobody thought far enough in advance to develop one.
Theoretically the Republicans had a once in a lifetime chance to make its agenda a reality coming into this year. They had a huge margin in the House, a modest majority in the Senate and a Republican in the White House to sign legislation they passed. Aside from the filibuster in the Senate the Democrats were almost powerless to stop them.
The Senate has a few mavericks which to date hasn’t really posed a problem for the skilled McConnell. (I don’t count the health care defeat because it was simply terrible and harmful legislation by any reasonable measure. In fact McConnell was masterful to have gotten it as far as he did.) The Republican House caucus has a sizeable bloc that has stolen the names Republican and conservative; they are neither loyal to the Republican Party nor subscribers to the conservative political philosophy. Trump has zero party loyalty. He is in it for himself and will use whoever is useful to him at that specific moment.
So here is some free political advice to the Republican Party on how to save itself.
Get rid of Donald Trump. That shouldn’t be very difficult considering all the transgressions he has committed. He will turn on the GOP in a heartbeat if he thinks it will allow him to skim another dollar or remain in office a day longer. Currently the replacement will either be Mike Pence or Paul Ryan (if Pence somehow went out with Trump). While neither is “my guy” they are real Republicans and perhaps extreme conservatives, but still conservatives.
Dump the Hastert Rule. (For those unfamiliar with it, what it basically says is that the House Republicans leadership will not put a bill on the floor for a vote unless there are enough Republican votes to pass it regardless of what the Democrats do.) If you can offset lost Tea Party votes with Democratic votes you have negated the strength of the insurrectionists in your midst. The bottom line is that the Tea Party people are not and have never been Republicans. They are better described as anarchists and unbeknownst to them are enabling fascists.
Work with the Democrats. You still have the majority and should be able to negotiate deals that skew heavily toward your philosophical viewpoint. Contrary to what the Tea Party believes: Compromise is not a dirty word. It is often imperfect – so is life. Our Constitution is a collection of compromises. While imperfect it has served us well for centuries.
It may not be my political viewpoint and I have no desire to join one, but America has a need for a center-right political party and the Republicans are currently best positioned to fill that need. All they have to do is save themselves from the enemies within.
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