D.C. Disease and the GOP's "Electeds"
Why was the GOP so deeply divided as to what course it ought to have pursued in the fall of 2013 when the issue of shutdown loomed?
Posted: Aug 26, 2014 11:20 AM
Why could it not agree on an approach to border security and immigration reform from its defeat in November 2012 forward?
Why was its number two man in the House of Representatives dismissed by the voters, and the defeat of Eric Cantor so wholly unexpected?
And why is paralysis of its increasingly likely majority in both the House and the Senate almost inevitable?
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's important new book The Way Forward gives a surprising answer, and perhaps not one that the 2012 GOP Vice Presidential nominee would even expect a close reader to take away, but as I discussed with him at length yesterday on my radio show --the audio and transcript are here-- the answer is now obvious to me: The "electeds" who make up the Beltway GOP Elite barely consult with many of its own "public intellectuals" within the nation's capital, and apparently not at all with those who live outside of the Oz that D.C. has become.
This class of "electeds" generate their policy proposals from within their own staffs and small circles of close friends and advisors, with some help from K Street and the political consulting class.
The elected GOP, to put it bluntly, hears the noise from the grassroots and it concerns them --even scares them-- but the elected GOP does not actually listen to what those grassroots are saying. The policy proposals put forward and the strategy developed on the Hill do not reflect what the grassroots want and thus the friction between the Beltway GOP and its voters is large and growing larger.
The Freshmen and sophomore House members who are closer to their voters as well as some rogue members who enjoy national support because of their identification with a particular national issue --Iowa's Steve King on immigration for example-- separate from House leadership not because they are ornery but because they are actually much more closely aligned with the super-majority positions of the center-right. The House leadership seem particularly divorced from the agenda held by the super majority of center-right voters and those who speak with them and for them.
In fact, I think even the talking heads and unelected policy wonks of D.C. are more closely in touch with what the grassroots want and indeed increasingly demand. But the GOP Congressional elite isn't.
Before interviewing Chairman Ryan, who remains among the most accessible and affable of the elected GOP, I ran a thought experiment with the help of my friend, frequent guest host and Salem/Townhall colleague Guy Benson, who served as a one man control group on my view of who "influences" the center-right grassroots the most.
"Who," I asked Guy, "were the 50 most influential center-right movers and shakers who did not hold elected office?" I had already jotted down my own list, and not surprisingly when I received his there was substantial overlap. Together we assembled around 75 names --we purposefully excluded past office holders as well as judges-- and we had about 50 percent overlap. Here are the names. As you run down them, ask yourself if you think the elite of elected GOP ever calls any of them to solicit ideas about policy or to serve as sounding boards for policy proposals in advance of their unveiling. (For my part, I can
count on both hands the number of electeds who have called me before advancing a proposal to get input and reaction. About half of the time they seemed to have changed their views in response. That's 10 times in 15 years of hosting a nationally syndicated show heard around the country and not without influence on some key debates over the years.)
Guy Benson (nominated by me)
Paul Gigot (and the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board)
Mary Katharine Ham
Victor Davis Hanson
Hugh Hewitt (nominated by Guy)
Kathryn Jean Lopez
This composite list is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather reflexive. Given more time we might add or subtract some names, but we both completed our exercise in 15 minutes and could not decide even whether news anchors like Baier and Kelly and reporters like Costa and Drucker should be on the list of center-right influencers since, while their influence is undeniable, they are not partisan in the least, just as Hume was not until he assumed his role as a
commentator alongside Barnes, Barone, Krauthammer, and Will.
What is remarkable about our combined list is (1) how deeply D.C.-centric it is, and (2) whether its members are inside or outside the Beltway, how irrelevant those on the list are to the plans and proceedings of the elected GOP elite.
With a couple of exceptions, these men and women are known as commentators, not individuals to be consulted on agenda development and policy proposals by the electeds. In the minds of the electeds, the influencers exist to react to the electeds' agenda, not shape it, and by reacting, to shape the reaction of the grassroots. Thus the electeds develop their proposals, try and sell them to the influencers and through the influencers to the grass roots.
It is the very opposite of a representative system. It is backwards from how it ought to be. The chaos that rules is the result of that backward approach.
In fact Congress self-generates most of its ideas --often in secret as with tax policy and immigration-- doesn't test them in advance via formal or informal conversations with most of the people on this list, but rather with increasingly discredited pollsters and consultants, and then the electeds are surprised that party division follows. The electeds are attempting to dictate, not represent, and in so doing, have put themselves in a precarious position.
The first proposition above on the D.C.-centric nature of the influencers needs no proving up. All but a handful of the list of influencers are card carrying members of the Manhattan-Beltway media elite.
The second proposition is testified to by the contents of Paul Ryan's new book, which is almost certainly deeply consistent with the views of a handful of this list, utterly indifferent to the ideas of most of them, and downright indifferent via silence or openly hostile to much of what the grassroots holds dear.
My long conversation with Ryan yesterday confirmed this suspicion on the subjects of the home mortgage and state income tax deduction and the border fence. Ryan and I have deep disagreements on the former deductions --advancing them means political suicide-- and I don't believe he --or most of the Beltway GOP-- understand the absolute centrality of the long, strong, double-sided border fence to the rank and file voter or the super-majority of the GOP in favor of non-citizenship regularization.
In fact, I don't think the Beltway GOP can quickly summarize what the
super-majority position within center-right conservatism is. Not do I think they care that they do not know. Let me summarize what I believe the great majority of the grassroots of the GOP believe. Then ask yourself is Speaker Boehner, Leader McCarthy, the House Committee Chairs and most of the Senate GOP agree. The grassroots:
*Don't want even one more President Obama judicial appointee confirmed by the U.S. Senate and want this openly declared by the electeds;
*Do want a long, strong, tall, double sided fence along our southern border;
*Do not object to the regularization and indeed almost certain permanent residence of most of the illegal population but reject citizenship and voting rights for those who entered the country illegally;
*Do not want any new federal legislation on gun ownership, period;
*Do want the tax code to retain the home mortgage interest deduction as it presently exists, ditto for the charitable deduction and the state income tax deduction (indeed, millions among the grassroots have built their lives in reliance on these deductions in no small part);
*Do want their churches left alone, and the religious beliefs of all left unmolested by edicts of academic authorities on campus;
*Do want a very, very strong military, do not worry at all about the pay and benefits the warriors receive, and are enraged when the warriors are asked to give up benefits they have earned in combat;
*Are 1000 percent behind Israel, eager to have our military take out terrorist leaders, and very supportive of lots of aircraft carriers, F-22s, F-18s, F-35s, A-10, the Marines and most of the rest of the services. If the Congress spent 5 percent of GDP on defense there wouldn't be any unhappiness, but drop below 4 percent and anger builds about the hollowing out of the military;
*Support the use of the military to defeat terrorist enemies and contain near-peer competitions, and want Iran blocked and sanctioned;
*Loathe the "Common Core" to a point of almost indescribable disgust;
*Want the standing army of bureaucrats slashed by a measurable, verifiable percentage,
*Would not object to taxing wealthy Americans on their retirement benefits or means-testing all entitlements;
*Despise unelected judges making legislative judgments but accept without deep complaint or permanent surrender legislative majorities that rule against their causes;
*Don't yet give a damn about the corporate tax rate but hate idiot taxes like the medical device tax which kills manufacturing in the country;
*Are deeply, deeply suspicious of the FDA, the EPA, the IRA, and the Fed, and are angry at leisurely pace adopted by the House on investigations into some of these and oversight on them all;
*Are disgusted generally with what is perceived as the walking pace and lassitudinous attitude of the GOP Majority in the House, and the wholesale lack of communications skills or even attempts at communication by House leadership;
*Have developed an unhealthy contempt for the inability of the GOP House Leadership because of its refusal to appear in public forums accessible by the grassroots and answer questions and face critics from the right;
*Wouldn't mind a severance tax on the vast new reserves of oil and natural gas being discovered;
*Don't worry about "climate change" and support off-shore energy exploration;
*Are not remotely protectionist and hate Solyndra-style infusions of big government giveaways, but have never lost a minute's sleep over the Ex-Im Bank, federal transportation spending or other traditional Hamiltonian "national improvements";
*Despise those who despise them, like former Representative Steve LaTourette, who likes to throw acid in the eyes of the conservative base at every turn but is never rebuked by his pals on the Hill. If you took these 20 propositions and ran them past the 75 "influencers," my guess is you would get 70 percent or more agreement on them from the 75. So why can't the elected GOP articulate them, live by them, advocate for them --around the clock and with the urgency hat Ryan says is necessary to the times?
Why can't our representatives represent?
The answer is D.C. Disease. More on that in my next column.