I wrote a few days ago about the current division in the Republican Party, which is as profound as I can remember seeing it in my lifetime. The dialogue on this isn’t going to end any time soon. There’s a sense in which we would be shortsighted to want it to. Some observations.
1. Rush Limbaugh is right about the Tea Party and other limited-government conservatives. They have been galvanized by the recent fight, not abashed. The sense about Ted Cruz among limited-government conservatives may be best expressed by Lincoln’s famous exclamation in the face of criticism about Ulysses S. Grant: “I can’t spare this man – he fights!”
2. The main argument of the “establishment” conservatives and Republicans rings hollow with the limited-government wing. David French expresses it here:
One of the more irritating aspects of the recent government-shutdown unpleasantness has been the “I told you so” lamentations of the defund/delay plan’s critics — as if they had anything approaching a workable alternative.
That’s the problem: the establishment GOP had no alternative plan. In fact, a number of commentators – including Charles Krauthammer and Karl Rove – made that point in the days just prior to the 1 October deadline. They criticized the GOP leadership for not seeming to have a plan – a plan to at least use the leverage of the continuing-resolution deadline, or the debt ceiling deadline of 17 October, to get some concessions from Democrats on spending and the roll-out of Obamacare. It was 27 September, then the 28th, then the 29th, then the 30th, and still the GOP leadership on the Hill did nothing.
Blaming Ted Cruz and the Tea Party for that looks like a dodge from out here, not a principled criticism.
3. The end result of whatever the GOP did was going to be a cave-in. The core problem is that everyone could see from the outset which party to the negotiations was most likely to cave: not Obama, not the congressional Democrats, not the congressional limited-government conservatives, but the GOP leadership.
It appears that the GOP leadership’s plan all along was to cave with a lower profile – get less negative press for caving – on the assumption that nothing else was possible. Their complaint seems to be that Cruz and the Tea Party fouled that up for them. If Beltway outsiders can see that, congressional Democrats and limited-government conservatives could see it too.
4. There is a limit to what the voters are going to accept in that regard. We are well beyond the inflection point in kicking the can down the road, whether in terms of the regulatory burden on the people, or the public impact of government’s fiscal operations. For the middle-class householder across the fruited plain, there is no kicking the can: the consequences are here. Jobs disappearing, insurance disappearing, goods disappearing from the supermarket shelves, prices going up for everything the people need, no one able to plan until he knows what the Fed, the EPA, or the Department of Health and Human Services will do tomorrow.
The consequences are here. I don’t know how to put it more clearly. Reality has already changed for the electorate. It’s not 2008 anymore. And the GOP isn’t addressing the voters where they are today. It’s addressing them where it thought they were in 2008, when it lost the Oval Office and saw both houses of Congress remain in Democratic hands.
5. Republicans have been doing the same thing over and over again since the 1930s – eventually reverting in each instance from our brief bursts of deregulation and fiscal soundness – and in that time, everything about the size and scope of government has gotten progressively worse. It is vain in 2013 to argue that we haven’t given incrementalism and compromise a chance. For 80 years, that’s all we have done, on balance. We are where we are today because of it, not in spite of it.
6. The reason the GOP is a house divided is precisely that reality has finally changed enough to wake the people up. A very significant segment of the GOP “base” is certain that we cannot continue down the path we are on. This segment of the base cannot agree to elect candidates who insist on hewing to our current path. It cannot elect candidates who despise and excoriate those (like Ted Cruz) who recognize the peril our rights and our way of life are now in, because of how the U.S. federal government is being run.