One Congressman’s Fate Demonstrates What’s Wrong With The GOP

One Virginia Republican Member of Congress recently got a lesson in what going against the GOP's hyperpartisan atmosphere feels like.

Capitol Building Dusk

National Journal’s Ron Fournier has an interesting profile up of Virginia Congressman Scott Rigell, a Republican who represents Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District and the lesson he learned when he ran headlong into the right’s distaste for anything that hints at moderation and the Presidential ambitions of one particular Senator:

Trouble began for Rigell in late February when he received an invitation from the White House to fly on Air Force One and attend an event in his district. President Obama planned to discuss the effects of so-called sequestration cuts, his latest attempt to blame the budget standoff on Rigell’s party.

“Please tell the president I accept with gratitude,” Rigell told the White House aide.

Rigell knew he would be criticized by fellow conservatives for giving Obama political cover. Right-wing ideologues were already skeptical of the second-term lawmaker because he had disavowed an antitax pledge, voted to raise the debt ceiling, and opposed holding Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal contempt (one of only two Republicans to do so). Rigell represents one of the dwindling few swing districts left.

But he agreed to travel with Obama for two reasons. First, he wanted to tell the president to his face that the White House had failed to lead on budget negotiations. Obama needs to honestly embrace spending cuts and entitlement reforms, Rigell insisted, to extract any new revenue from Republicans.

Secondly, Rigell holds a quaint view that, until the recent past, was universally accepted in Washington. “He is,” Rigell said, “my president.”

Conservative commentators, their numbers and power dramatically increased in the past decade or so, derided Rigell as a sap, a sellout, and a “RINO”  or “Republican in name only.” Negative calls and e-mails poured into his office. Still, Rigell was confident he could reason with his constituents, aided by a detailed chart on the federal budget that he carted to town halls and local media interviews.

In many ways this is similar to the reaction that Chris Christie got when he welcomed President Obama to New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, praised the assistance that the Administration was giving to New Jersey in the days immediately following the devastating storm, and later criticized Congressional Republicans for holding up a relief bill for more than two months after the storm hit. Christe was, as you will recall, denounced roundly by pretty much everyone on the right. He was, absurdly, blamed for Mitt Romney losing the election. He was criticized for staying in his state in the days after the storm  instead of traveling to Pennsylvania to appear at a Mitt Romney rally. All because he was nice to the President in a situation that called for him to do so.

Rigell found himself in a similar situation. He was invited to fly on Air Force One to appear at an event in his district by the President of the United States. Given that he had two choices, he could turn down the invitation and become a hero to the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world. Or, he could accept the invitation and appear along with the President to answer questions that his constituents, many of whom work in the military and the defense industry, had about the impending sequestration cuts. Rigell chose the second option, and, to use his words, got hammered for it. He broke the code of hyperpartisan Washington by reaching across the aisle. And he got tarred with the absurd “RINO” label simply because he agreed to take a one-hour airplane trip with the President of the United States.

But, that was only the start of Rigell’s problems:

Coincidentally or not, two days after his trip with Obama, the gun lobby launched a harsh, effective, and factually bogus attack on Rigell. The National Association for Gun Rights aired radio ads and sent direct-mail fliers that falsely accused Rigell of backing a federal registry system and working hand in hand with Obama to seize guns.

Rigell’s great crime, other than riding Air Force One, was to sponsor a benign antitrafficking bill that would outlaw “straw purchasing,” the act of providing firearms to those who are unable to legally purchase weapons themselves. He is, after all, a lifelong NRA member with an A-minus rating from the group.

The NAGR positions itself to the right of the NRA, uncompromising on any gun regulation. Like many left- and right-wing interest groups, it operates in the dark and feeds on fear: Voters in Rigell’s district do not know who funds the organization.

Rigell soon learned that one source of revenue was Paul, at least indirectly. The NAGR sent an e-mail to potential donors that opened with a note from the Kentucky senator urging recipients to support the “fine folks” at NAGR.

Rigell and his team made three assumptions. First, that Paul didn’t know about the attacks on fellow Republicans (the NAGR also criticized House Majority Leader Eric Cantor). Second, that Paul was aiding the group so that he could tap into its mailing list for his political future (he is considering a presidential run). Third, that Paul would condemn the group’s actions once he found out about them.

So Rigell asked Paul to call him – “Can we talk about guns?” In that telephone call at lunch, Paul told Rigell he didn’t know about the NAGR attacks and would look into them. After a further exchange of notes, e-mails, and telephone calls between the two staffs, Paul refused Rigell’s request to denounce the group.

“It was,” Rigell said, “just indifference.” In Rigell’s eyes, Paul had failed a character test.

“I did not seek this—to have a public disagreement with him—but the consequences of where we’re heading as a country are very serious, and we’re all in this together,” Rigell said.

Paul’s involvement with the NAGR has been raising a lot of eyebrows lately, largely because Rigell isn’t the only Congressman who has found themselves a target of the Paul-backed groups ads. Indeed, Rigell’s fellow Virginia Republican, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor also found himself targeted by the groups ads. In Cantor’s case, the attacks appear to be because of comments he made in February saying that the House may be willing to consider Senate legislation that involved beefing up the background check system for firearms purchases, and suggesting that the system that (very pro-gun) Virginia implemented in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007 could serve as a national model. As with Rigell’s vote in favor of cracking down on something that is already illegal, and indeed which was part of the Fast & Furious investigation that continues to occupy the imaginations of most people on the right, Cantor’s proposal was completely innocuous and honestly a fairly rational policy idea. Since it deviated from the ideological rigidity that the NAGR demands, though, their positions must be attacked.

Both of these incidents are prime examples of what’s wrong with politics, and specifically the Republican Party, today. Any attempt to reach across the aisle, even if it’s seen as innocuous as a plane ride, is denounced as traitorous. Any policy proposal that doesn’t adhere to an absurdly strict ideological line is similarly denounced and, if necessary, the candidates who take those positions are subjected to challenges from within their own party at election time that only serve to weaken them for the General Election. That may be a great way to run a blindly ideological political movement, but it’s no way to run a political party in representative democracy, and it’s no way to run a government.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Congress, Politicians, 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. legion says:

    The important thing here is that this is not the exception – at the level of local politics nationwide, it’s the rule. The GOP base does not support compromise on any position. That’s why they any Republican pol who gets elected to pretty much any level is, by definition, unfit to be a part of a representative democracy.

  2. Mark Ivey says:

    “RINO gun grabber!” they screamed with 30 round magazines hanging off their heads..

  3. Dave says:

    Doug can you tell us again why you like Rand Paul so much? So far as I’ve seen he embraces craziness read on WND, dounounces the UN and now backs a group trying to out his own for the small offense of trying to open a dialogue. What does he bring to the table that you are so interested in? And if it isn’t your interest why all the twitter posts to united liberty praising him from your account?

  4. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Perhaps Congressman Rigell should be gently reminded of what happened to Congressman Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) back in July 2010. Obama was giving a speech in Hoekstra’s district, and Hoekstra was attending, as is oft the case when the president visits your district. The White House confirmed Hoekstra’s attendance, and then had Obama slam him to his face over their disagreements — in a forum, naturally, where Hoekstra could not respond without breaking protocol.

    Or, perhaps, he should be reminded of how Obama, during his 2010 State of the Union address, where Obama chose to not only single out the Supreme Court for an attack, but lied about the basic facts of the matter he was attacking them over (Citizens United did not allow foreign corporations to make unlimited donations to political races in the US). Justice Alito allowed himself to utter a stunned protest (barely audible), and was thoroughly slammed for speaking the truth.

    Or during Obama’s infamous address on immigration reform and Representative Joe Wilson shouted “you lie!” when Obama stated that the current proposal did not extend benefits to illegal aliens — it turned out that it did, and the offending clauses were only removed after Obama’s address. Wilson was thoroughly lambasted for daring to speak the truth.

    Making nice with Obama often gets you kicked in the face.

    Oh, and aren’t “straw purchases” already illegal? I seem to recall that from the Fast & Furious scandal — the sellers knew the buyers were straw buyers, but the BATFE essentially ordered them to process the sale anyway. What was the point of this new law Rigell was backing?

  5. Bleev K says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: You must have been Pavlov’s favorite dog.

  6. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    Today’s Republican Party is a hotbed of partisan correctness.

    Cheer-up, this period of GOP projectile vomiting will pass, and you guys will emerge from it as cranky and White as ever

  7. Rigell represents extraordinarily high military population and defense spending beneficiaries in Virginia Beach and parts of Norfolk and Hampton. This gun rights spat is a cover. Rigell picks a straw man fight with anti-defense establishment/spending Republican Rand Paul and bloggers fall in line behind poor Scotty. Fascinating story but you got to wonder if anyone is looking behind Rigell’s motivation. Scott Rigell looks at Rand Paul as his enemy and will do whatever he can to pull Rand Paul down.

  8. Jc says:

    This is the problem with the GOP. It’s gangteresque, where its about your street cred. Like a gangsta, they care more about maintaining their street cred than speaking out against craziness in general or holding a moderate opinion. Just like on the street, they would be mocked and considered soft and ostracized as “fake” gangsters. Huntsman would be a good new face for the GOP, but he ain’t “hard” and “real” like Rand….Sheeeit, and so it continues…

  9. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Shorter Jay: “Waaah!! Waaahh!!! Waaaahhh!!! Mommeeeeee!!!!”

  10. wr says:

    @Let’s Be Free: Say, isn’t that tinfoil hat hot now that winter is over?

  11. mantis says:

    @Super Space Pirate Jenos Idanian #13:

    Making nice with Obama often gets you kicked in the face.

    And your examples of people nice to Obama are Hoekstra, Scalia, and Wilson? Solid!

    Oh, and aren’t “straw purchases” already illegal?

    The bill would make straw purchasing a federal felony, which it is not now. Many states, like Arizona, treat it as Class 6 felony, so low it can be charged as a misdemeanor. The bill is aimed at toughening enforcement in states that keep laws as loose as possible to attract the criminal gang market. Also Kenyan fascism or something.

  12. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @mantits: I am hardly an expert, but it amazes me how you seem to know even less than I do on the matter. Straw buying is covered under question 11A on Form 4473 — the very first question after all the identifying info. Form 4473 is a federal form, and lying on it is a federal offense, with the potential punishment of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

    Oddly enough, almost no one is ever prosecuted for lying on a Form 4473. It seems that if you do lie on one and are caught, you have about a 1 in 1,000 chance of actually being charged.

    When I was growing up, my mother told me I had to clean my plate of everything she put on it before I could have seconds on anything. I find myself channeling her when I want to tell Congress, “no, you can’t have any new gun control laws until you actually use the ones you already have.”

    Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go have some breakfast. I have an omelet recipe that uses Beagle Bacon — I got the recipe from Michelle Obama. Apparently Barry loves it.

  13. superdestroyer says:

    @legion:

    Why should the Republicans compromise when they have been screwed over so many times by the Democrats and by their own politicians. Bush I compromised with the Democrats and was voted out of office while receiving 38% of the vote. Reagan compromised on amnesty and now California is lost to the Republicans forever. Every promise of budget cuts in the future has been reneged on by the Democrats. Republicans compromise and never receive any benefit in return while the Democrats always come out the winners in any compromise. Repubilcans who make deals with Democrats always suffer and lose in the end.

    Also, people should not forget how much Bush II screwed over fellow Republicans with his push for more entitlements, more spending, more government, and more international adventures. Rep. Rigell should blame the incompetence of the Bush II Administration for the problems that he is facing. Until the Republicans throw Bush II and everyone who worked in that administration under the bus, they will continue to suffer.

  14. Fog says:

    “Reagan compromised on amnesty and now California is lost to the Republicans forever.”
    Because that’s ALL THAT MATTERS.
    The health and welfare of Californians? Meh…
    Here’s your problem with the modern GOP. People have been saying for a long time that it’s all about power, not governing. We should thank SD for his honesty.

  15. An Interested Party says:

    Rep. Rigell Republicans should blame the incompetence of the Bush II Administration for the problems that he is they are facing rather than whining about being screwed over whenever they compromise.

    Happy to be of help…

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Bush I compromised with the Democrats and was voted out of office while receiving 38% of the vote. Reagan compromised on amnesty and now California is lost to the Republicans forever.

    Let me see if I’ve got this right: If a Republican compromises on any issue, the proper response from the Democratic party is to cede the election to him/her?

    BWAAAAHAAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAWHAWHEEHEEHEE…. wheeze gasp pant pant….

    Let me just say that your ignorance of how politics works is truly stunning. Especially in light of your posting here at OTB, which is a Poli Sci centered blog.

  17. Stonetools says:

    As Jenos and SD’ s posts indicate, current Republicans WANT the Republican Party to be a narrow ideological movement that refuses to copromise with the Democrats. The problem is that Obama refused to recognize what the current Republicns Party had become until at least 2011 , and that the MSM still refuses to see it as it truly is. The MSM still thinks of the Republican Party as the one they grew up with- with a substantial liberal/ moderate wing that has members that a Democrat can ” do business with” and who will rein in the “wild eyed conservatives”. That Republican Party has gradually disappeared, and right now it’s pretty much wild eyed conservatives all the way down.
    The MSM and moderate Republicans like James and Doug still yearn for the Republican Party of their youth, which is why they claim “both sides do it” and worship the idea of “bipartisanship “, insisting that “reasonable compromise” with the Republicans is still possible if the Democrats “try hard enough” . It’s time to face the truth- that the party of Jenos and SD isn’t interested in reasonable compromise-they are committed to total victory for their side, no matter what. Only voting them out will solve the problem of governmental gridlock. The model here is California , where a similarly idealogically narrow GOP blocked all attempts to solve critical budgetary problems until they were voted into political irrelevance. I’m hoping the MSM and the country see the reality of today’s GOP by 2014, but dreams for a moderate, reality based GOP die hard apparently, so I am not hopeful.

  18. legion says:

    @superdestroyer: The conclusion is apparent from your own recitation, SD – the Republican party is being destroyed by its own base, which has become utterly intolerant of internal debate or self-examination of any kind. Even the slightest deviation from dogma is heretical. Take a real close look in the mirror – nothing you stated can be blamed on the Democrats.

  19. Septimius says:

    But he agreed to travel with Obama for two reasons. First, he wanted to tell the president to his face that the White House had failed to lead on budget negotiations. Obama needs to honestly embrace spending cuts and entitlement reforms, Rigell insisted, to extract any new revenue from Republicans.

    How’d that work out for him?

  20. wr says:

    @legion: “Take a real close look in the mirror – nothing you stated can be blamed on the Democrats. ”

    Wait a minute — you’re saying the fact that Bush 1 lost reelection because his own party wouldn’t vote for him can’t be blamed on the Democrats? Unbelievable!!!!

  21. mantis says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I am hardly an expert, but it amazes me how you seem to know even less than I do on the matter.

    You should be amazed. It’s impossible for anyone to know less than you.

    Straw buying is covered under question 11A on Form 4473 — the very first question after all the identifying info. Form 4473 is a federal form, and lying on it is a federal offense, with the potential punishment of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

    Lying on this federal form is a federal crime. That does not mean that straw purchasing is a federal crime, only lying about it on this particular form, which is not actually required for many types of gun purchases.

    So your response to my comment noting that straw purchasing is not a federal felony, which the legislation discussed would change, you respond by telling me that lying on a federal form is a felony, as if the two were the same thing. They’re not. Please continue to demonstrate your stupidity.

  22. DRE says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I find myself channeling her when I want to tell Congress, “no, you can’t have any new gun control laws until you actually use the ones you already have.”

    This is a common but nonsensical argument. Congress does not enforce laws. Many laws have unintended details or regulations attached that reduce their effectiveness or make prosecution difficult. If there is a law on the books that is not having the effect that was intended, it is very rational to try to replace or amend it in a way that will improve enforcement.

  23. Brummagem Joe says:

    Never interrupt your opponent when he’s making an error…Napoleon. Republicans are in a deep hole and digging furiously. They should be allowed to continue their labors uninterrupted.

  24. David in KC says:

    @Septimius: Chained CPI doesn’t count?