Column: Republican collapse

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SummaryFar-right elements of the House prefer to go down in a blaze of glory—or at least take the country down in one

Congress has finally worked out a deal to end the government shutdown and dodge default, but not before the Republican Party demonstrated to Americans just how conflicted and dangerous it is.

Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, this week described our current Congress as a greater danger to national security than Al-Qaeda, writing, “We don’t tend to talk about Congress as—at this stage—what it plainly is: the clearest and most present danger in the world to the national security of the United States.”

That is what the GOP-led House has brought us. Conservatives outside the chamber know defeat when they see it, and want to live to fight another day. But they beat their chests in vain as their laments fall on the deaf ears of the far-right political death squads.

On Tuesday, the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial pages blasted:

“This is the quality of thinking—or lack thereof—that has afflicted many GOP conservatives from the beginning of this budget showdown. They picked a goal they couldn’t achieve in trying to defund ObamaCare from one House of Congress, and then they picked a means they couldn’t sustain politically by pursuing a long government shutdown and threatening to blow through the debt limit.”

Senator John McCain said this week, “Republicans have to understand we have lost this battle, as I predicted weeks ago, that we would not be able to win because we were demanding something that was not achievable.”

Senator Lindsey Graham put it more bluntly: “We really did go too far. We screwed up.”

But, far-right elements of the House cannot be reasoned with. They prefer to go down in a blaze of glory—or at least take the country down in one.

And arguably no one is more the face of this disaster than Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, labelled by one New York Republican representative, Peter King, as a “fraud” and “false prophet,” who helped orchestrate it.

The Houston Chronicle editorial board on Tuesday took the extraordinary step of trying to withdraw its endorsement of Cruz, an endorsement that no doubt helped get him elected. An editorial posted to the paper’s website began, “Does anyone else miss Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison?”, the senator Cruz replaced. It went on: “When we endorsed Ted Cruz in last November’s general election, we did so with many reservations and at least one specific recommendation—that he follow Hutchison’s example in his conduct as a senator. Obviously, he has not done so. Cruz has been part of the problem in specific situations where Hutchison would have been part of the solution.”

It seems everyone is waking up to what a disaster this current Republican contingent of extremists has become and how poisonous they are to the functioning of our democracy. Better late than never, I suppose.

Cruz’s favourable ratings are underwater in Pew’s, Gallup’s, Fox News’ and Quinnipiac’s polling.

But then, Cruz doesn’t put much stake in polls, with their pesky numbers.

According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken last week, views of the Republican Party sank to record lows and 70% of respondents thought Republicans in Congress were putting their own political agenda ahead of what was good for the country.

The poll also found that negative feelings about the Tea Party had risen, with 47% saying they had negative feelings about the group, including 34% who described their feelings as “very negative.” Just 21% of Americans now say they feel positive about the group.

But when Cruz was asked Friday about the poll, he dismissed it as having a problematic methodology. He said: “If you seek out liberal Obama supporters and ask them their views, they’re going to tell you they’re liberal Obama supporters. That’s not reflective of where this country is.” In fact, it is Cruz’s methodology that is flawed. His grandiloquence may well be the undoing of the Grand Old Party.

According to a Pew Research report released Tuesday:

“A record-high 74% of registered voters now say that most members of Congress should not be re-elected in 2014 (just 18% say they should). By comparison, at similar points in both the 2010 and 2006 midterm cycles, only about half of registered voters wanted to see most representatives replaced.”

The report also found:

“An early read of voter preferences for the 2014 midterm shows that the Democrats have a six-point edge: 49% of registered voters say they would vote for or lean toward voting for the Democratic candidate in their district, while 43% support or lean toward the Republican candidate.”

Republicans terribly misplayed a weak hand on the government shutdown and the debt ceiling. There was never any chance of success other than scaring the president and the Democrats into caving. President Obama and Harry Reid called their bluff and they were left with no real options.

This is an embarrassment for the country, yes, but it’s also an embarrassment for the Republican Party that lays bare their motives, tactics and intention. It may not be so easy for voters to forget this come next November.

As the conservative Matt Drudge tweeted on Wednesday: “Speaker Pelosi Part 2: Opening Jan 5, 2015.” If only.

Charles M Blow

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