The House GOP Sounds Retreat (Or Should.)

Posted: Jan 27, 2014 9:45 AM

Even The New York Times admits (reluctantly) that 2014 is a GOP year.

That could change of course --if Israel attacks Iran and the president strongly backs Israel (much as 1962's election trends and results changed when the Cuban Missile Crisis came and went), or if one or more high profile GOP Senate candidates fall on their faces with stupid remarks or ill-thought through jeremiads which in turn spread to cripple Republican candidates everywhere. I'd like to send Senate candidates in each of the 14 states* wherein GOP nominees could take over a seat currently held by a Democrat a copy of The Happiest Life so they could campaign in the key of common sense.

The scalding that a handful of Republican figures have administered to the party as a whole over the past few years, however, should make everyone more careful with their words, more consultative with their ideas, more open yet careful with the media, and certainly more strategic in their choices. Certainly any of the many would-be 2016 GOP nominees** has to figure out how to campaign and inspire without opening their armor even for a second to the darts of the MSM. (Watch Netflix's "Mitt" to see how disciplined a candidate must be, and even one who is gets zapped by an agenda-driven MSM.) The Speaker and the House senior leadership as well have to get out of their donor-driven, consultant-constructed cocoons and back to talking to real voters, which include veterans and the spouses of active duty military.

The leaders of the party in the House, in other words, have to at least pretend to care what the various segments of that party's base care about and how they react to the House GOP's initiatives. The House GOP leadership has to act rationally, and win elections before they "make tough choices" no one asked them to make now, and which they cannot make except to hurt themselves while helping Democrats, as they did two weeks back in backing the attack on the retirement benefits of the career military.

This approach of politically-responsible reform underlay Reince Priebus' beautifully executed rationalizing of the GOP's presidential primary calendar, as it does the Republican National Committee's push to reform the candidate debates and advance the convention to late June or early July 2016, and to select a smart, non-hurricane-prone venue with great facilities and mass transit but not without opportunities for fun and of course great hotel space, a place, like, say, Cleveland. (That the RNC is even considering Las Vegas is a mystery to me, as it is a given that one or more delegates if not office-holders will do something so monumentally stupid as to launch the production of "Hangover IV.")

Even disciplined candidates and reformed procedures in '16 won't help the GOP if the House Leadership '14 continues to bounce from disaster to disaster and from issue to issue without a guide or a plan. Speaker John Boehner told Jay Leno --it was a joke of course-- that he needed to be the Gestapo towards some of his members, which may hold down attendance at this week's House GOP retreat in Maryland. But what Boehner really needs to be is Coolidge, saying and doing very little for the next nine months. Let Obamacare rightly drive this election cycle. And only Obamacare.

Bill Kristol has recommended this course, but I have a slight addition. My Monday Washington Examiner column reviews some reactions to the assault on the career military led by the House GOP two weeks back. House leadership tells each other that "Nothing is wrong here, the phones aren't ringing, nobody cares that they through the military under the bus." They are not following #KeepYourPromise on Twitter or asking anyone who knows the community, however, and the key proof is among the GOP candidates running statewide for the Senate, not one of whom has endorsed this political pratfall which is a pratfall not because it was delivered by a tongue-tied spokesperson or because it was poorly-thought through in its roll-out, but because it is fundamentally unjust and a breach of trust with the men and women in uniform. Of all the groups for the House GOP to target, they target the warriors who have fought to defend the country through 13 years and a half-dozen deployments each. Put aside the enormity of the breach of faith, and just think about the politics for a moment. Really, who decided the only group that would get chopped would be the men and women who have been shot at, bombed, seen their closest friends killed or wounded, and been away from the spouses and children for up to 15 months at a time for many of the past dozen years?

Kristol urges that the House GOP completely avoid a party-splitting debate on immigration. He is absolutely right to do so. Like Kristol, I favor a comprehensive regularization of the illegal alien population, combined with the construction of a long, strong, half-the-border-in-length double-sided fence with access roads --the sort of fence that has worked in Israel to keep out all unwelcome people. The House GOP deep thinkers don't want that though. They don't want to do what the vast majority of Americans want to do, just as the Senate refused to do so. The Senate immigration bill ignited fury among conservatives not because it was proposing regularization but because it was again absurdly silly about border security with a laundry list of stuff no one asked for and yet no serious provisions for a long, strong fence. The Senate bill also provided "a path to citizenship" as opposed to mere legal status. It is a toxic bill, and the House knows it. Let it die. Let the entire issue languish until 2015 when both Houses of the Congress are under GOP control and then immigration reform can be to Barack Obama what welfare reform was to Bill Clinton --a necessary, genuinely bipartisan reform measure that works.

Instead of choosing this course of patience and political wisdom, the House GOP is developing its own set of dumb immigration initiatives, which will again tick off most and satisfy none because it won't articulate the specs much less define the length or construction schedule of the "f-word" but will instead talk about "border security" and "interior control" when the party's voters: Want. A. Fence. The Speaker will late this week reveal "immigration reform principles" that no one asked him to develop, and then those principles will emerge in a bill no one demanded be brought forward. Then the wave of opposition will roll down on the House members while the Manhattan-Beltway media elite gleefully cover the real House GOP retreat, all the time ignoring the mounting catastrophes associated with Obamacare. Nice political work, that.

This will all follow the looming hollow and self-destructive battle over the Debt Limit which the House GOP cannot dare not agree to raise, and to which the only possible "win" that could be attached is the repeal of two very stupid moves: the cut to the career military COLA and the medical device tax. Send over debt limit hikes with those two repeal provisions attached, and see if the Senate refuses either or both. Think about November, House GOP, and not about your lobbyist pals or your pie-in-the-sky plans for 2017.

Focus the debate with the first version of the Debt Limit bill, and see what the Senate volleys back. What they delete, they oppose. Let them oppose repeal of the attack on the career military or repeal of the medical device tax.

There isn't going to be tax reform in 2014, 2015, 0r 2016, and besides no one --no one-- campaigned in their districts in 2012 or will this year on ending the home mortgage deduction, the charitable deduction or the state income tax deduction. If anyone wants to come on the show and actually propose those measures specifically and defend them publicly, that person will earn courage points and the respect even of his or her opponents, but "magic hat" tax reform is anathema to a party on the edge of losing even more core constituencies because it dictates and never consults.

The House GOP Retreat will be full of pollsters and consultants --they always are-- though it remains hard for me to imagine how much time it takes to urge allegedly sentient politicians not to discuss "rape" except to condemn it nor speak of human sexuality in any way. "Free markets, free speech, freedom of religion, and a national defense strong enough to defend them all twice over" --that's the ticket. Retreat to that. Retreat to Reagan.

*Competitive '14 Senate Races in which seat is currently held by a Democrat: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia.

**Potential 2016 candidates for the Republican nomination: Amb. John Bolton, Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Mike Huckabee, Gov. Bobby Jindal, Gov. John Kasich, Rep. Peter King, Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Mike Pence, Sen. Rand Paul, Gov. Sarah Palin, Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Rick Santorum, Gov. Rick Snyder, Sen. John Thune, Gov. Scott Walker.