How Republicans Have Set Themselves Up To Fail

The GOP looks likely to win substantial victories next Tuesday, and may even take control of both Houses of Congress, but they've already made their own failure inevitable.

Rick Moran argues that, though it is likely set for substantial gains in both Houses of Congress one week from today, the GOP has already laid out the course of its own failure:

The seeds of GOP failure have already been sown during this campaign and it is extremely doubtful that Republicans can achieve any of their short term goals, much less change the culture of America to reflect their outdated views of small government, low taxes, and a much stricter interpretation of the Constitution.

There is no doubt government can be “smaller,” taxes “lower,” and judges put in place who would take a friendlier view of original intent. But the exaggerated goals of tea partiers and other conservatives is a pie in the sky impossibility — the result of a fundamental misreading of modern American society and a refusal to recognize that, as in life, a nation cannot “go home” and recapture a period in time now lost to the ages.

Most analysts now agree that the Republicans will take the House next Tuesday. While it is doubtful they can sweep the table and take the senate as well, they will certainly score significant gains in that body. But will this sweeping victory be due to any ideas the Republicans have been promoting? In other words, can the GOP rightfully claim a mandate to govern?

Getting the deficit under control and getting people back to work are legitimate GOP aspirations and if voted into office, members of congress can claim a broad mandate to accomplish those goals. The “return to Constitutional government” – whatever that means specifically – is also broadly accepted as part of the Republican platform, although such a nebulous goal can be interpreted a thousand different ways. Then there is the rollback of Obama’s agenda in health care, financial reform, and other Washington power grabs that enjoy the support of a plurality of voters – if that.

How much success will the Republicans have in accomplishing any of those goals? The answer is, this is an agenda bred for failure.

The reasons for this are quite apparent. As long as Barack Obama is in the White House, and thanks to the Senate rules that they themselves used so skillfully, Republicans will simply be unable to achieve the goals that they’ve set for themselves. Which, of course, is why they’re already talking a whole new set of goals. As I noted yesterday, top Republicans in both houses of Congress are now essentially saying that the agenda for the 112th Congress will involve obstruction, gridlock, and laying the groundwork for a 2012 challenge against Barack Obama.

As Rick notes, this paints a rather bleak picture of America for the next two years:

Unable to get anything passed because their numbers are too few, the GOP will refuse to deal with the president because their rabid, frothing at the mouth base of partisans equates compromise with weakness. The art of governance is lost on these mountebanks — as it was with their counterparts on the left in 2008 — because so certain are they of the moral rightness of their cause that they regard compromise as dealing with the devil (or, for the left, whatever the secular equivalent). Hence, we had the spectacle of rabid leftists calling for the heads of more moderate Blue Dogs because they dared to seek compromise with Republicans on the major agenda items. Similarly, compromise with President Obama by Republicans on anything will be deemed as a betrayal of the electoral “mandate” the GOP will win next Tuesday.

With the nation in an economic crisis the likes of which have not been seen since the 1930’s and the American people crying out for leadership, the GOP will freeze like a deer in headlights, terrified that any move to get anything done in Washington to alleviate our economic problems will be seen as “caving in” to Obama and the Democrats and rile the tea party crowd, leading to a slew of primary challenges for members in 2012. Hence, the prospect of gridlock while the nation continues to sink into economic stagnation and ennui.

As I noted yesterday, politically this seems like an incredibly stupid strategy on the part of the GOP. Like the Democrats before them, Republicans seem to be entering the 2010 elections convinced that the victories they are likely to achieve are the result of the fact that public has endorsed their policies, and their strategy for dealing with the President. In reality, there’s little evidence that this is true, and substantial evidence that the GOP is merely benefiting from the fact that the economy is in dire shape. Looking deeper into recent polls, for example, it’s clear that voters are as dissatisfied with Republicans as they are with Democrats:

The fact that voters are about to vote Republican is more about their frustration with a Democratic majority that has failed in it’s primary tasks than it is an endorsement of Republican policies, or of the idea that it would be just great if we spent the next two years engaged in yet another partisan fight. If they were smart, Republicans would remember the lessons that Democrats failed to learn, look at the fact that, the President’s job approval is higher than theirs, and rethink the obstruct and investigate strategy that they seem to be committed to adopting when Congress convenes in January. Instead, they seem to be doubling down, and Rush Limbaugh’s “I hope he fails” mantra of early January 2009 now seems to be the official policy of the Republican Party.

At a time when the nation faces serious economic problems, and when a foreign policy crisis could be just around the corner,  the political polarization that seems to have become the new normal in American politics doesn’t strike me as the wisest choice, but, as Moran notes, it’s what we’re left with:

It would take real political courage and statesmanship for both sides to build a bridge across the abyss we have dug for ourselves and meet in a spirit of real bi-partisan compromise. There are no giants in congress anymore, only misshapen trolls and midgets whose cynicism about the system requires that they gather as much wealth and power as they can before being retired by their constituents or leaving office to find an even more lucrative position in the revolving door of Washington interest peddling.

Cynicism in Washington breeds cynicism among the populace. And the coming Republican failure to fulfill the wishes of the electorate will only add to the feeling of hopelessness that stalks the land in the second decade of the 21st century. Where will we be 10 years from now?

I see three options. Either the partisan wars come to an end because one side or the other is defeated, they end because both sides realize that it’s all just very foolish, or they continue until we reach a crisis point and people finally realize that it’s time to stop arguing over the Outrage Of The Day and actually fix what’s wrong with this country. Neither of the first two scenarios seem likely at all to me, which leaves us with this third, and that’s not something I look forward to at all.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. sam says:

    All of which is pretty much what I was arguing in yesterday’s thread on the do-nothing 112th.
    And here is a pluperfect, first-water cinematic representation of the Republican House majority’s governance during the next two years, except that those two guys look to have more organization than the Republicans will.

  2. Michael says:

    Gee Doug your just so doggone smart…we all should just listen to your genius….too bad your a DC lawyer.

  3. James Joyner says:

    The problem is that obstruction is likely the best the Republicans can do. Getting stuff done by compromising with a chastened Democratic president, ala the Class of 1994, is a recipe for getting said president re-elected. The nature of the system is that, if stuff gets done, the president gets credit. If it doesn’t get done, he likely gets the blame — although very skillful presidents sometimes manage to shift it to an obstructionist Congress.

    The bottom line, then, is, compromise means losing and cooperation may also mean losing — but it could mean winning.

  4. Don L says:

    Yeah, they’re walking right into OBama’s trap, better they don’t try to win?

  5. Billy says:

    James,

    Your comment illustrates the problem. Governance isn’t about winning – it’s about governance. The bottom line is that obstructionism by the majority means the country loses. This is the republican plan.

    The republican party is totally unserious about actually fixing our problems – does this concern you in the least?

  6. @James,

    I basically agree. The way the system is these days, the GOP really has no other choice but to do stuff like this

    @Billy,

    This isn’t about just the GOP, it points to systemic issues and, ultimately, the American people themselves are the cause of the problem

  7. James Joyner says:

    @Billy:

    Yes, Doug’s right. This is the system we have. It’s permanent campaign mode, to the detriment of good governance.

    But I don’t expect the Republicans to unilaterally disarm, since playing nice means four more years of Obama and likely an increase in the number of Congressional Democrats in 2012. It’s a Catch-22.

  8. Mithras says:

    Obama has compromised with the GOP and conservative Dems every step of the way. He’s actually serious about good governance. The fact that the GOP can’t respond in kind speaks volumes. Their objective, since Reagan, is to discredit the federal government except with respect to spending on the military and intelligence services. Being obstructionist is not only good politics with regard to the Republican base, it’s an essential element of the conservative movement’s strategy.

  9. bob says:

    Mithras says:
    Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 09:45
    Obama has compromised with the GOP and conservative Dems every step of the way

    That maybe the most rediculas thing i have seen in weeks.

  10. Ben says:

    Bob, if you think that the healthcare bill that passed is the bill Obama wanted, than you are being quite “rediculas”

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    Arguendo let’s assume that the Republicans take narrow control of both houses of Congress. What’s their best strategy?

    Make common cause with the White House? That would hearken back to Bill Clinton’s “triangulation”. Are there any signs that the Obama White House would be amenable to such overtures? I don’t see them. Considering the way the stimulus and healthcare refomr were handled it looks pretty doubtful. Indeed, recent personel changes suggest the opposite if anything. More like circling the wagons.

    Dare the veto? Republicans could railroad as much base-pleasing stuff as possible using every parliamentary trick in in the book. It would gin up the base, make it darned hard to vote against a do-nothing Congress, and set the stage for a campaign against the obstructionist White House in 2012.

    Make common cause against the White House with Congressional Democrats? The idea here would be to build veto-proof majorities. I don’t the see the dealmakers for this sort of approach and with as coherent a freshman class as the next Congress is likely to have I doubt they’l be in much of a mood for the sort of thing that would emerge from this strategy.

    I’m thinkin’ Door #2.

  12. Billy says:

    @ James & Doug

    Mithras and Ben illustrate the counterpoint. Most of the plans passed solely by democrats in the last two years actually co-opted republican ideas (as did Bill Clinton in the 90s), and Obama has made a systematic effort to include such ideas in the hope of buying bipartisan cover. Due to republican obstructionism, this effort has uniformly failed, but the bills passed have almost always included some compromises to the center, if not the right wing. If anything, Obama failed by not starting out with a left-wing bill, which would have given him more room to compromise and allow republicans the cover of having negotiated “concessions,” because the concessions were in the first draft already.

    As the democrats track to the center in the spirit of compromise, the republicans track further right to deny them any victory. Policy compromise on the part of a republican majority would not be unilateral disarmament, it would be reciprocity.

    I cannot agree more with Doug that the American people, or at least a vocal minority, are the cause of the problem.

  13. Brett says:

    or they continue until we reach a crisis point and people finally realize that it’s time to stop arguing over the Outrage Of The Day and actually fix what’s wrong with this country.

    It’s also possible that we could see Congress go all the way towards a British-style system where the ruling party governs with little input from the loyal opposition, by removing some of the checks that make Congress so incredibly unwieldy (like the filibuster). It’s a hell of a risk (since the party that does it probably won’t control the chamber forever), but it wouldn’t be surprising the way things are going.

    I certainly don’t see the parties coming back together, barring some sort of massive catastrophe. The incentives against it are just too large.

    Dare the veto? Republicans could railroad as much base-pleasing stuff as possible using every parliamentary trick in in the book. It would gin up the base, make it darned hard to vote against a do-nothing Congress, and set the stage for a campaign against the obstructionist White House in 2012.

    They could try, but the same problems that afflict the Democrats’ ability to get legislation through the Senate will be there for the Republicans, assuming they win a narrow majority (which seems unlikely). It’s hard to claim the President is obstructing an active Congress when said Congress is still in “do-nothing” mode.

  14. mantis says:

    If it doesn’t get done, he likely gets the blame — although very skillful presidents sometimes manage to shift it to an obstructionist Congress.

    I think you can count on it. The Republican nominee in 2012 is going to have to spend all of his/her time defending two years of gridlock and deepened economic problems brought to us by a Republican House or Congress (unless the GOP nominates Palin or some other Palin clone, who will not participate in interviews or debates, opting to whine about the media on Facebook instead).

    Republican gains this year, if large enough, will guarantee losses in 2012.

  15. anjin-san says:

    Mithras has it right. The motto of the modern GOP seems to be “When America wins, we lose”.

  16. Wayne says:

    So is it the Democrats plan to obstruct the Republicans and create gridlock?

  17. Steve Verdon says:

    Actually gridlock might not be so bad for the economy. Right now I’d say one reason why we are seeing a sluggish recovery is regime uncertainty. Businesses and consumers are not sure what the future holds given legislation like health care reform, finance reform, and all that talk of carbon credits and what not. Gridlock will at least reassure both consumers and businesses that at least for awhile things wont be changing too much more. In fact, some aspects of recent legislation might be muted.

    Crisis presents politicians with a chance to expand government, enact policies that heretofore were not possible to pass. Along with these changes comes uncertainty about the future in regards to taxes, rules and regulations and even property rights. This causes people to dig in a not spend and/or expand on what they are doing.

    Gridlock stops all of that right in its tracks. It may not be optimal, but the optimal was never the goal of politics or government anyways. Anyone who thinks so is a naive fool.

  18. Billy says:

    “Actually gridlock might not be so bad for the economy.”

    I think this is our best hope – that the status quo is better than the alternative. I’m not sold that this is a postulate in all circumstances, but the type of change that would be enacted on the waive of emotionally-charged, fact free analysis that will sweep into Washington next week would almost certainly be a net loss to the country.

    That said, if this is the case, it seems only Obama stands to benefit.

  19. Tano says:

    Steve,

    I do not see the sense in your comment. Wouldn’t gridlock simply lock in place the uncertainty of today? Will we go forward with full-bore Obamacare or not? Businesses may favor one answer or the other, but I sense what they really want is some definitive answer either way. Gridlock will put that off for a few years. Same with financial reform. Cap and trade, or some other energy policy? Wait till 2013 at least. How about finally doing something about immigration – can I keep those illegals I have working in my kitchen or not?

    Gridlock will do nothing to improve the air of uncertainty. What we need is a decisive victory of one side over the other, or a joint sense that hammering out some compromises is essential. Otherwise everyone is going to sit and wait to see how it all turns out in the end.

  20. Juneau: says:

    @ mithras

    Obama has compromised with the GOP and conservative Dems every step of the way.

    Quick hint: This is Earth, not Unicornia. Obama has refused to give an ear to literally dozens of Republican proposals on key legislation like healthcare reform. He has most certainly not “compromised.” This is not some imaginary planet where “compromise” equals not locking the opposing party out of the house. The only ones Obama has “compromised” with are the moderates in his own party, because even with an ironclad majority on both houses, he still couldn’t give his radical agenda full voice.

    In other words, he’s so far out in left field that even his own party choked at the idea of passing some of his and Reid-Pelosi goals. Y’all are complaining about the GOP saying “no” to Obama, even though that is exactly why the GOP is being supported by the electorate this term. Good luck with turning what is clearly a positive into a negative. Gridlock is fantastic – if the alternative is following Obama.

  21. Juneau: says:

    @ tano

    Gridlock will do nothing to improve the air of uncertainty.

    Neither will conceding to Obama’s penchant for passing down whimsical edicts from high that intrude into the free market and private business. The power he has granted to unelected, unaccountable, and often unexperienced “czars” is a primary contributor to the uncertainty.

    He needs to be reigned in, and it needs to be done in a definitive and emphatic way. This is how business leaders will begin to relax – when they have confidence that the capricious government-intrusion genie created by Obama has been placed firmly back in the bottle.

  22. Tea Partier says:

    We are not interested in playing around the edges. We want constitutionality RESTORED FULLY.

    There is no other legitimate version of our government.

    Either Congress gets back within the bounds of the Constitution, or armed revolt and the people rightfully depose the whole lot and restore our government – as the DOC says is our right. We’re following the system, for now. But arrogant pricks like the author seem to think the Constitution is just a set of wishes or something. The Constituion IS THE SUPREME LAW OF THE LAND, how dare ANYONE voice that following it is neither good, possible, nor acceptable.

  23. Steve Verdon says:

    Tano,

    I do not see the sense in your comment. Wouldn’t gridlock simply lock in place the uncertainty of today? Will we go forward with full-bore Obamacare or not?

    Obamacare is a huge area of uncertainty, anything that reduces its scope, impact, or even outright implementation is actually a step towards reducing uncertainty. Saying, “Well we passed it so implement it,” doesn’t reduce uncertainty since there is so much uncertainty in how it will be implemented, the costs, and so forth. For example, will there be a category of businesses that decide they’ll take the fines and just dump their plans forcing everyone into the government created pools?

    If gridlock means putting a speed bump or even a road block in front of that it could be good.

    What we need is a decisive victory of one side over the other, or a joint sense that hammering out some compromises is essential.

    Given how politicians will milk and extend a crisis (look at our crisis mentality that is still flowing from 9/11) this would be the worst possible outcome, IMO.

    Oh, and look what happened last election when there was a decisive victory. Our current health care system is quite broken. No arguing about it. It is very costly at the very least (i.e. quality of care is still, IMO debatable). However, health care reform will do nothing but further extend and entrench our current system. The problems that necessitated Obama to say we needed health care reform still persist and will persist in another 10 years. Why? Because nothing has been done to address the costs associated with health care. The chief actuary of medicare thinks this. The CBO thinks this.

  24. Davebo says:

    Steve Verdon says: “Obamacare is a huge area of uncertainty, anything that reduces its scope, impact, or even outright implementation is actually a step towards reducing uncertainty.”

    How many people do you employ Steve? And what is your burden for health care been doing lately?

    Frankly, as an employer I’d have loved to have seen the public option adopted and shoveled the nightmare that is employer based health care onto someone, anyone else.

    I’ll most likely continue to provide health care benefits to my employees and their families right up to closing the doors.

  25. An Interested Party says:

    “Either Congress gets back within the bounds of the Constitution, or armed revolt and the people rightfully depose the whole lot and restore our government – as the DOC says is our right. We’re following the system, for now.”

    Oh my, such tough words, but how are you going to back them up? Armed revolt? Really? Maybe Muslims won’t be the only people disappearing into black sites…

  26. anjin-san says:

    > Businesses and consumers are not sure what the future holds given legislation like health care reform, finance reform, and all that talk of carbon credits and what not.

    That’s right Steve. All across America people are saying “I’m not going to Wal-Mart today. With all this talk of cap and trade, it’s just too risky”.

  27. Steve Verdon says:

    Frankly, as an employer I’d have loved to have seen the public option adopted and shoveled the nightmare that is employer based health care onto someone, anyone else.

    Thanks for proving my point Davebo. That is exactly what I’m talking about. Now your employees would have got to wonder…will it cost more or less…the same….do I get to keep my doctor? What if my current employer plan doesn’t have a public pool variant meaning I have to switch? What about the basic minimal standards?

    How many people do you employ Steve? And what is your burden for health care been doing lately?

    Completely irrelevant.

    That’s right Steve. All across America people are saying “I’m not going to Wal-Mart today. With all this talk of cap and trade, it’s just too risky”.

    It may not be direct and as stupid as you make it sound, but if these policies are increasing regime uncertainty and that results in slower economic growth, higher unemployment…consumers can and do see those things in the news and those things can cause people to become a bit less inclined to spend. When you have 50 million people spending “just a bit less” it can have significant impacts.