Via RCP. Wait, wait, wait — before you start shaking your first at him, isn’t his point here oddly simpatico with what tea partiers say every day about Beltway squishes like King himself? It all depends on what benchmark you use to define “Republican.” The Republican establishment of the past 10 years has been fiercely interventionist, willing to bend on civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism, and happy to back new entitlement programs like Medicare Part D so long as their guy’s in the White House. Rand Paul, by contrast, tilts towards isolationism, wants to sue the NSA over its Bush/Obama surveillance programs, and opposes virtually all new forms of government spending. By the standards of 2000-2010 Republicanism, he is, quite literally, a Republican in name only — which is precisely why tea partiers, who hate what the GOP’s become, like him. King’s point here is a silly but oddly penetrating gloss on the story of the last two weeks, namely, what does “Republican” mean in 2013? Righties who hurl “RINO” as an insult don’t really mean that the target isn’t a Republican, they mean that he isn’t a conservative. Is “conservative” still a synonym for “Republican”? Was it ever, even under Reagan? The Paul/Cruz wing is trying to co-opt and redefine the Republican brand, which is valuable because it already enjoys the allegiance of nearly half the country, but maybe it can’t be done — which is why political media is suddenly full of stories like these and Gallup is asking questions like this. In fact, the whole point of a goofy 2016 Peter King presidential candidacy is to push this question into the spotlight (as if it wouldn’t already be there by virtue of Christie’s and/or Bush’s much more serious candidacies). Which side of the party still controls the “Republican” brand? RINOs versus true conservatives in the World Series of love.
Since we’re on the subject, can anyone explain to me how this strategy by centrist House Republicans is supposedly going to checkmate their tea-party colleagues?
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., is organizing a group of pragmatic conservatives, hoping to create a counterweight to the Tea Party-affiliated lawmakers that have thwarted House GOP leadership strategy leading up to, and during, the government shutdown.
Nunes corralled five Republican members, whom he declined to name, but told the Washington Examiner that he expects membership to grow to a dozen. Frustrated that a hardline minority of House Republicans stymied the strategies and legislation supported by a majority of the caucus, Nunes said the group intends to withhold their votes from any bill that does not garner the support of at least 208 of the 232 Republicans in the House.
Once 208 House Republicans get behind a particular legislative package, the Nunes group would deliver the final 10 votes needed to pass it. Nunes said the group’s chief priority is to prevent a minority of the caucus from blocking the will of the GOP majority. The Californian said his group will disband once the government shutdown ends and the battle over the debt ceiling concludes.
So, if 25 tea partiers in the House decided to vote no on one of Boehner’s measures because it’s not conservative enough, leaving him with 207 Republican votes, Nunes’s centrist gang will … also vote no, thereby helping the tea partiers by preventing passage? Why would he do that? The idea here, I guess, is that if Boehner ends up bringing a bill that’s backed by tea partiers, Nunes’s group will punish them and refuse to support unless they can get to 208 on their own. But … that shouldn’t be too hard. If tea partiers are fully on board with a particular bill and the leadership’s also on board, then the entire caucus has the political cover it needs to vote unanimously in favor. To create a real counterweight to the tea party, Nunes would need to find several dozen centrists, not just 10 or 12, who not only oppose tea-party policies but are willing to risk a primary to block them by withholding votes. And the only way he’ll get those centrists is if some sort of grassroots centrist counterweight to the tea party developed to support centrists in the primary. But that’s unlikely for simple psychological reasons: By definition, a centrist doesn’t see losing a political fight as a dire threat to the country the way someone on the left or right does. They don’t have the same motivation to turn out in the primaries to elect their guy as a conservative does. (Many centrists, I suspect, don’t pay close attention to politics, although whether that’s a cause or effect of their centrism is debatable.) And, despite David Frum’s fondest dreams, their annoyance at Cruz and Mike Lee for all this is unlikely to gestate into a grassroots movement. Which means Nunes is stuck at 10 or 12 and we’re left debating who the real “RINOs” are.