Open warfare has broken out inside the GOP between Tea Party Insurgents and the Republican Party Regulars. It revolves around tactics, more than policy. It’s an old-fashioned power struggle.
The Insurgents’ protagonist is charismatic freshman U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. Behind him are a handful of powerful Insurgent leaders. Insurgent leaders need political boots on the ground. They’ve got them. Their most important generalissimo is Jim DeMint, with his ability to direct Heritage Action. Also important is the Tea Party Patriots’ Jenny Beth Martin. On the equally important money side there is FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth. Together these command potentially huge sums on behalf of potential primary challengers.
The party Regulars — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner — are in command but not, at the moment, in control. But this fight isn’t about principle. Both factions oppose Obamacare, and seriously. It’s about power.
The Insurgents demand a head-on confrontation: “defunding.” Of course, the power to defund most of Obamacare is out of the Congress’s hands. The Regulars intend, primarily, to let it capsize of its own misshapen design (taking down the Democratic Senate with it).
The Regulars have the approval of many principled, rock-ribbed, strategically proficient conservatives … such as Grover Norquist. Norquist is Obama’s bête noire, in many ways as rock-ribbed as they come. Norquist recently provided an acid critique of Cruz, telling the Washington Post:
“… Cruz stood on the side and confused people about the fact that every Republican agrees. He said if you don’t agree with my tactic and with the specific structure of my idea, you’re bad. … Cruz said he would deliver the votes and he didn’t deliver any Democratic votes. He pushed House Republicans into traffic and wandered away.”
The Insurgents control vast sums of political money. They have platoons of hardened activists. They are willing (even prefer) to field — and back — primary challengers. This has the Regulars temporarily paralyzed… to the Democratic Party’s glee.
Yet nothing, in the capital, ever is quite as it seems. The claim that the federal government has shut down is pure histrionics. Sen. Rand Paul pointed out to Sean Hannity that 85% of spending continues. The Weekly Standard (and practically nobody else) reported that 1,350,000 essential federal workers (almost two-thirds) continue to work.
This is misrepresented as a “government shutdown.” Nope.
By the Obama administration’s own admission, this is … a temporary modest reduction of inessential government services. How anticlimactic is that? The State-controlled media fears that if they were to tell it like it is we all would go back to watching reruns of Breaking Bad.
The very best report from the political front is that of Joshua Green in Bloomberg/BusinessWeek: Jim DeMint, Congressional Republicans’ Shadow Speaker:
“In mid-August, Jim DeMint … set off on a nine-city Defund Obamacare Town Hall Tour. … In each city, hundreds and sometimes thousands of true believers crammed into hotel ballrooms to hear him explain how, with enough pressure on legislators, Congress could be persuaded to withhold funding for the law and thereby halt it before public enrollment begins on Oct. 1.
“Many Republicans looked on in horror as the defund movement gained steam. If the government shuts down, polls suggest blame will fall most heavily on the GOP. North Carolina Senator Richard Burr calls DeMint’s plan ‘the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.’ Representative Tom Cole, a veteran Oklahoma Republican, has likened the shutdown threat to ‘putting the gun to your own head. You’re basically saying, do what I want or I’ll shoot.’ DeMint doesn’t see why his ploy should hurt Republicans.
“…Heritage Action’s Sentinel program … trains activists in the manner of the Obama campaign. Only rather than solicit votes, the 5,000 Sentinels are rigorously briefed so they can parry politicians’ feints and dodges and pin them down on whatever issues Heritage deems urgent.”
Luckily for both GOP factions the shutdown is proving to be mostly a nonevent. 36 reasons why the “shutdown” is overblown may be foundtheeconomiccollapseblog.com.
The Obama administration barricading the World War II Memorial, and shutting down of such trivial-cost services like the US Census Bureau website, merely are petty acts of self-vandalism. They are intended to put some hurt, or at least ignominy, to the American people. They do so lest the American people tumble to the (correct) conclusion that a lot of what our grandiose federal government does either is inconsequential (Hello, GSA!) or mostly inimical to the public interest. (Yes, EPA, this means you.)
Still, the threat of primaries by activists, funded by deep-pocketed Insurgent SuperPACs, has paralyzed the ability of the Republican leadership to move the GOP caucus. Norquist divulged Leadership’s likely preferred strategy in his Washington Post interview:
“[T]he leverage isn’t the debt ceiling. It’s not the CR. It’s the sequester. Democrats think this is desperate privation. It’s like the Kennedy kids with only one six-pack. They feel they’ve never been so mistreated. So there’s something they want. And there’s something Republicans want. So you could see a deal there. And the leverage was the sequester. That’s what struck me as what leadership was thinking about, and it made a great deal of sense.
“The second thought was to have a conversation over the one-year delay. A two-month conversation about delay would be healthy for the body politic. And maybe you’d get the delay. There’s no shame in the delay. Microsoft is always delaying Office. You could do it without humiliating the president.”
This is no counsel of defeatism or timidity. It’s… strategy
Meanwhile… the strategic efforts of McConnell and Boehner on another key front are paying off. The central Tea Party issue, prior to Obamacare, was cutting federal spending. This columnist participated in Tea Party protest rallies, and co-led one, against out of control spending.
Guess what? Spending’s plummeting.
Supply side icons Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore have some big news for the less observant. In the latest issue of the American Spectator, their Obamanomics RIP :
“Washington is experiencing one of the biggest fiscal retrenchments in modern history, and almost no one is paying attention. In the wake of the Bush-Pelosi-Obama spending splurge from 2008-11, federal spending has fallen by 3.1 percentage points of GDP. … The turning point in spending from the binge years of 2009 and 2010 came when the Republicans took control of the House in 2011.
“Not since the economic boom following World War II have we seen such a rapid decline in the federal government’s claim on the nation’s resources. … This is the first time in 50 years we’ve had two straight years of declining spending.”
It, of course, would be premature for the GOP to declare victory over spending. Deeper spending cuts are needed, and urgently. But the downtrend is dramatic. Hello my fellow Tea Partiers? This didn’t happen automatically or easily. The House and Senate Republican leadership deserves the credit. Mr. DeMint? Take a bow! And then send Boehner and McConnell each a bouquet for this signal victory in the war against Big Government.
The ability of the GOP decisively to roll back the Democrats’ social democratic jihad depends on the outcome of next year’s mid-term elections. And, as the founder of the Republican Party once famously observed, a House divided against itself cannot stand.
So how does the GOP reunite against the common foe, Big Government? The shrewdly calibrated efforts of Boehner to unwind the overblown “shutdown” likely will succeed. Moreover, the wily Boehner likely has vastly more leverage over his caucus to avert the threat of default. Boehner may use the absolute necessity — and his absolute commitment — to prevent default as a force majeure to get the Republican caucus to go along with sort-of-reopening the sort-of-slightly-closed government.
And if he can pull that off … the “McConnell Strategy” of turning the 2014 elections into a plebiscite on a practically and politically ruinous Obamacare may again be pushed to the fore. McConnell’s approach provides the very best chance for the Republicans to regain a Senate majority in 2014.
And it opens the door for a good across-the-board conservative to be positioned to enter the White House in 2016. Even the liberal Washington Post acknowledges that “Americans are more conservative than they have been in decades.”
Boehner and McConnell are likely, and likely sooner than later, to get their panicky caucus members under control. Then the question of how to repeal Obamacare — especially, by offering a tenable market-based solution to the health insurance mess, thereby regaining the moral high ground — will be rediscovered as something for heated, but civil, debate. The GOP then will reunite around its mission to continue downsizing Leviathan and restoring economic growth and job creation through good, free market, policy.