The weekly column from Clark Judge
Republican Civil War – Dealing with the GOP’s Dilemma
By Clark S. Judge: managing director, White House Writers Group, Inc.; chairman, Pacific Research Institute
Over the weekend, Rasmussen posted the results of a poll showing GOP senator Ted Cruz trailing only Pope Francis and President Obama as “the most influential person in 2013.” It has been a good year for Mr. Cruz, who was sworn in fewer than twelve months ago. Some would say that it has a less than good year for his party and blame Mr. Cruz and his allies in the Senate and House for what is now being called the Republican Civil War.
Last month’s cover stories in both Commentary magazine and The American Spectator featured this Cruz-led insurgency.
Commentary was entirely disapproving. It agreed with those who charged that the filibuster to defund Obamacare and the subsequent government shutdown never stood a chance of success and only alienated much of the country. Authors Michael Medved and John Podhoretz, both strong conservatives, blamed “angry [political] entrepreneurs” (FreedomWorks and Heritage Action especially). They concluded, “Republicans will win meaningful victories only when they lose their appetite for martyrdom and fratricide….”
The Spectator was far friendlier to the insurgents. Its profile of Cruz was balanced but on the whole warm and admiring. A companion piece on the California Republican Party warned that, “As the GOP goes wobbly, red states go purple, then blue.”
Count me in the middle. I know this makes me sound like the Southern politician of the old school who once said of Prohibition, “Some of my friends are for it. Some are against it. I stand with my friends.” But bear with me.
For as I see it both the criticisms of the GOP Senate and House insurgents and the defenses are too Washington centered. Too much discussion focuses on this member of Congress and that, this Washington-based advocacy groups or that, and campaign money distributed from Washington. I believe something bigger is going on among the American people as a whole. It has created a dilemma that the GOP must solve if it is to start winning national elections again.
On one side of this dilemma are Tea Party members and sympathizers. According to polls taken in the 2012 cycle, they make up half – exactly 50 percent – of Republican –oriented voters. CNBC reporter Rick Santelli inadvertantly sparked the Tea Party movement with a 2009 on-air rant again the Obama Administration’s enormous spending and its subverting of market forces. Within hours, it seemed, tens of thousands were organizing. No knowledgeable observer doubts that those who responded to Santelli’s call acted spontaneously. But despite the shock and awe that accompanied it, that seemingly sudden uprising had been decades in coming.
The success of Ross Perot’s 1992 candidacy in splitting the GOP vote and giving the presidency to Bill Clinton was an early example of the same frustration with the tax-tax-tax, spend-spend-spend, elect-elect-elect formula that had been at the center of liberal politics since Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. President George H.W. Bush’s apparent run-up in domestic spending compared to his predecessor’s restraint, capped off by breaking of his “no new taxes” pledge, left many center-right voters distrustful of Republican leadership.
George W. Bush reassured this group enough to return many to the party fold. But then the Republican Congress and his administration ran up spending again – ending the balanced budgets of the late Clinton years – and reigniting the doubters’ distrust and anger.
These voters now demand assurances that Republicans are serious about cutting both government’s spending and its power over daily life. In reaching them, the seemingly futile and counterproductive campaigns of so-called Tea Party senators and House Republicans serve a purpose. They tell this group that a different breed on Republican is knocking at the door of power – a breed that can be trusted to follow through when the party next holds the reins of government.
The dilemma’s other half is voters who also favor limits to government but are more oriented to the here and now. They want to know that candidates will not go on Quixotic crusades at the expense of the day to day operations of society. They want careful attention paid to the concrete reality of life on the ground and government’s impact on it. Shutting down Federal operations is distasteful to them — threats of defaulting on the debt even more so. They don’t like stand-offs in Congress, either. They back away from those who instigate them.
The fiasco of Obamacare’s launch – not just the website but the revelation of dissemblance after dissemblance in the selling of the plan – has given the GOP an opportunity to resolve this dilemma.
But can it – and will it?