A fine bit of trolling from lefty Bill Scher. By the end of it, I think he’s almost talked himself into believing it. Almost.
There is a fundamental breakdown of trust between the party leadership and the conservative rank-and-file. Attempts by the leadership to tone down rhetoric, calibrate policy positions away from the ideological fringes, and avoid all-or-nothing legislative battles are irrationally decried as surrender. Such pragmatism would be crucial at the moment Republicans are in full control of Congress and carry a heightened responsibility to help govern, but they will be in no position to deliver. If the past few years have taught us anything, it is that the “party of no” GOP does not want to actually govern…
That track record suggests a Republican-controlled House and Senate wouldn’t completely jump the rails. But even when Boehner wins, he wins ugly. And if the GOP wins the Senate, these fissures will constantly be laid bare in the upper chamber too, preventing the leadership from presenting a consistent and welcoming face to the general electorate, and putting Republican presidential contenders in one awkward position after another.
A titanic budget battle, with the usual mix of unreasonable demands and threat of government shutdown, will be irresistible to the Tea Party once Republicans run all of Congress. But an outside-the-Beltway candidate like Jeb Bush or Chris Christie, inclined to run as someone who can end the federal government’s chronic dysfunction, will be hard-pressed to choose between criticizing Washington or praising the priorities of the Washington Republicans. If another natural disaster hits — especially in a key primary state or swing state — and conservatives again fight against emergency aid, presidential candidates who have a vote in Congress will be forced to choose between the compassion of the average voter and frugality of the debt-obsessed right-winger.
How is this meaningfully different from what we have now? The House was, is, and will remain in GOP hands; tea partiers who want to force a fight with Obama over the budget will still have that outlet regardless of what happens in November. If Democrats shocked the world by holding the Senate in November, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie and everyone else in the 2016 field who wants to inch towards the center for the presidential election would still be quizzed night and day about whatever tea partiers are up to in the House. The only important difference between the GOP retaking or not retaking the Senate is that Republicans in the chamber who are also thinking of running — i.e. Rubio, Paul, and Cruz — may have to cast actual votes on tea-party legislation from the House that they otherwise wouldn’t have to vote on if Harry Reid was still in charge. But then, that underestimates McConnell’s (and Boehner’s) willingness and ability to bottle up controversial legislation for the sake of protecting the party in 2016, especially under ferocious pressure from establishment outfits like the Chamber of Commerce to do so. Some conservatives mighty hypothetically want a vote on a bill to repeal the federal minimum wage; I guarantee you that Boehner and McConnell won’t allow that vote, knowing how well the minimum wage polls. If anything, having McConnell in charge might protect Rubio et al. from having to take hard votes that would otherwise be scheduled by a devious Reid. And I think this also underestimates the willingness and ability of conservatives like Cruz to moderate — a little — before the next election. Does anyone really think Cruz is going to lead another shutdown “defund” effort with a general election a year away and his own name potentially on the ballot? C’mon.
In fact, Scher’s piece inadvertently made me rethink my assumption that the midterms are almost totally meaningless. The only major difference between a Democratic-controlled Senate and a Republican-controlled Senate, I thought, is how the votes might shake out on a Supreme Court vacancy — and even there I suspect that GOP moderates will cross over and confirm basically anyone Obama nominates. If you believe that, then Scher’s got a case. If tanking the midterms would make things a little easier on Republican presidential candidates, why not tank ’em? There’s nothing at stake. Stay home. After reading various lefty defenses of Obama’s executive power grabs, though, I see that there is an important reason to take back the Senate. Ezra Klein et al. are citing protracted congressional gridlock as a reason for O to act more aggressively; Congress, by its inaction, has created some sort of power vacuum and now the executive needs to fill it. If that’s their pretext for blessing immense, unprecedented executive action like a unilateral amnesty for five million illegals, then by all means let’s solve that gridlock right away. Vote Senate Democrats out and Senate Republicans in. Now, with both chambers controlled by the same party, even lefties will concede that Obama’s authority to act on his own has shrunk and that he has no choice but to return to more traditional forms of executive action — in theory. I’ve got a funny feeling that what they’ll do in practice is claim that gridlock still exists, only now between Congress and the executive, and of course in case of a stalemate like that the tie should go to whichever branch is controlled by the Democrats. But let’s at least force them to make that argument.