Reagan or Gingrich: These wingnuts need to choose

Recent reports in The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere suggest that the future leaders of a Republican House intend to avoid repeating Gingrich’s mistake. The House candidates most likely to win are experienced politicians who understand they’re being handed a gift, not a mandate. They don’t think working with Democrats is evil. On big-picture tax and budget issues, they want to compromise with President Obama.

What makes this plausible is that the House leaders in waiting are, by and large, not an ideological group. John Boehner, the speaker-in-the-wings, could have replaced Monty Hall on Let’s Make a Deal. Kevin McCarthy, who will probably become House whip, is less pickled-looking but similarly pragmatic. Even Eric Cantor, the more ideological likely majority leader, says he has no interest in another government shutdown. By contrast, Mike Pence of Indiana, who advocates a “no compromise” strategy, is considering resigning from the leadership to run for president…

One can already see an antagonism emerging between the GOP’s congressional and presidential wings. The congressional wing, seeking to retain in 2012 the swing seats it picks up this year, will incline toward symbolic action. The presidential wing, trying to capture the Tea Party activists in a primary season, will argue for a frontal challenge to spending. If congressional leaders show moderation, they can expect to be accused of selling out by Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. But they are likely to back off nonetheless, because draconian cuts in social spending, especially in an anemic economy, would be politically suicidal.