Establishment GOP Biting Its Feeding Hand?

December 16, 2013

Just when President Obama is on the ropes with Obamacare and the rest of his failed policies, scandals and deceptions, the GOP seems determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory — a victory not just for the GOP, but also for the American people.

Instead of focusing on their common Democratic “enemy,” Republicans are firing at one another. Let me try to unpack this a bit.

So-called establishment Republicans tend to believe tea partiers are uncompromising, impractical, overly aggressive kamikazes who are willing to destroy the nation just to make a point. Many tea partiers, in turn, believe there is little difference between the establishment wing and Obama Democrats.

I am on the side of the tea party in this intramural rivalry, but I think some important distinctions need to be made.

Neither establishment Republicans nor tea party conservatives are monolithic. There are some establishment Republicans who are conservative on policy but strongly believe tea partiers are making a huge and self-destructive tactical error in insisting on a hard-line approach, especially in their seeming willingness to allow the government to shut down. Many of them truly believe they are just as conservative on policy as we tea partiers, but think we will never advance conservatism unless we soften our negotiating posture toward Democrats while they control the presidency and the Senate, because advancing conservatism is all about winning national elections.

But there are also many among the establishment wing who are by no stretch as conservative on policy as tea partiers. They have made their peace with a large, intrusive federal government and wouldn’t roll back much of the New Deal or Great Society even if they had control of all three branches of government. Many of them favor an “energetic” federal government that implements innovative, proactive solutions to problems, rather than rolling back the government where we can and letting freedom ring and the market work its magic. They are comfortable with higher levels of federal taxing and spending and with solutions emanating from Washington — such as in education, health care and the environment — instead of decentralizing government control. So it is oversimplified and misleading to argue that the tea party and establishment Republicans differ only in tactics but not in policy.

The tea party wing isn’t monolithic, either, in that it contains both social conservatives and social liberals, but it is unified in its opposition to a federal Leviathan that overtaxes, overspends and overregulates.

We tea partiers are not the self-destructive purists that many establishment types portray us as being. We agree that national elections are critically important, but we don’t agree that the best way to win elections is to avoid government shutdowns at all costs.

We believe that by standing firm on principle and articulating our positions clearly and unapologetically like Sen. Ted Cruz did, we will have a better chance of winning elections in the end. We reject the Democratic narrative that we will be blamed for every government shutdown — especially one caused by Obama’s insistence on imposing Obamacare against the will of a strong majority of Americans.

We are less inclined to modulate our positions based on polls that represent a brief snapshot in time that cannot factor in the long-term effects of a public national debate over Obamacare between the date of the shutdown and the 2014 elections. We believe that Cruz did not promise he could repeal Obamacare, but that he would rally public support to pressure Congress to that end. We believe Republicans are better situated for Cruz having fought that fight, because it helped to shine the spotlight on the disastrous Obamacare rollout and Obama’s pettiness and deceit concerning the shutdown and Obamacare.

We, too, believe elections are critical, but we aren’t going to win elections by conceding the narrative to Obama without even putting up a fight or by continuing to nominate moderate candidates who will not inspire the grassroots to vote. Nor will we win by emulating liberals or through phony bipartisan gestures that will never be reciprocated by Democrats. The establishment has had its way on government shutdowns and in presidential nominations — and we continue to lose, except when tea party themes dominate, such as in 2010.

If Reps. John Boehner and Paul Ryan want to agree to a budget deal that involves immediate spending increases now in exchange for phantom cuts in the future, dilution of the sequester framework and minimal entitlement reform, that’s their prerogative. But could they please admit it’s not a good deal? It may be the best deal they think they can get, but no one on our side really believes it is a good deal.

Say what you want about the tea party’s angst, but I’m seeing a lot of hostility coming from the GOP establishment and a lot of its energy expended in discrediting the tea party, which made the 2010 GOP congressional shellacking of Democrats possible and without which the GOP would forever be a minority party. Some establishment condescension toward the tea party mirrors that of the liberals, and it’s quite revealing — and disturbing.

The establishment wing is feeling its oats today, but it better realize that it is dangerously close to biting the very hand that feeds it and cutting off its own life support. Now that’s self-destructive.