The crackup is coming. You don’t have to be a political genius to spot it. Everyone knew it was coming eventually. The only surprise is that the fault lines are moving so quickly.
The polls are in — and they say just what you’d expect. Most people are unhappy with the government shutdown, and, for the most part, they blame Republicans. This is a shock only to those Tea Party types who thought that if they could only force the government to shut down, they’d be greeted as liberators.
This all became clear to me at a recent Republican gubernatorial event when a speaker greeted the crowd by shouting into the microphone: “Welcome freedom fighters.”
The crowd roared. And when shutdown was mentioned, the SUV-driving freedom fighters — fresh off the exurban barricades — roared again. That’s where we are today. The freedom fighters have shut down the government, and they now may even force a default, fighting the battle to take the richest country in the world to deadbeat status. Circle the date on your calendar. We have until Oct. 17 to get this fixed.
And, if we don’t, then what happens?
I’m not talking about the economic catastrophe that nearly every economist predicts (even as one of your sharper Tea Party congressmen, Ted Yolo of Florida, says he thinks a default “would bring stability to world markets”). The catastrophe – which presumably ends before the cliff dive, because, well, it just has to — is one thing. I mean, what happens when the phony-baloney crisis is over?
That’s when the crisis in the Republican Party gets serious. You can already see the cracks. Either the Tea Party folks are actual freedom fighters or they’re obstructionists who don’t believe in compromise, particularly if the compromise means negotiating about Obamacare or, for that matter, Obama-anything. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer has called the House Tea Partiers the “suicide caucus.” Conservative congressman Devin Nunes calls them the “lemming caucus.” You can pick your own cliff-diving metaphor. They all take you to the same place.
In normal times, a minority of one party in one house of Congress couldn’t wield so much power. But these are not normal times. In times when the real danger for Republicans in Congress is to be primaried from the right, Ted Cruz scares Speaker John Boehner into pretending to believe that Obama could actually be forced into defunding Obamacare. And, with Boehner’s speakership at stake, the suicide caucus lets Boehner know that compromise is out of the question.
These are times when, as National Review’s Robert Costa explained in an interview with the Washington Post, “many of these members now live in the conservative world of talk radio and tea party conventions and Fox News invitations. And so the conservative strategy of the moment, no matter how unrealistic it might be, catches fire.”
Rep. Nunes put it another way. He said that instead of taking on the “100-car pileup” that he called the Obamacare rollout, “we decided, with our small little part of government, to take our little bicycle into the path of the cars.”
The conventional wisdom was that Republicans wouldn’t come close to this bike-crushing point until after the 2016 presidential election. The scenario went something like this: The conservative purists finally nominate one of their own, but then he (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, whoever) gets George McGoverned by Hillary Clinton. And like the post-McGovern Democrats, Republicans – who have moved so far to the right they’re falling off the page — would learn the same lesson and eventually edge back in the direction of the center. Voters don’t generally like extremes, and parties, when beaten often enough, learn that lesson. Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, and one more would do the trick.
Of course, it may not turn out that way at all. We could get a President Cruz. But, in any case, everything has moved up now with the shutdown/possible default. And anyone who thinks the Tea Partiers will head to the center needs to think again. Read Costa’s quote. The would-be freedom fighters think they are revolutionaries. They hear their praises sung on talk radio, on Fox, in the right-wing blogosphere. The red-blue divide has gotten ever deeper, and backing down, for both sides, becomes ever more costly. A Time magazine cover story says Jim DeMint of the Heritage Foundation is running the Republican Party. On the pages of the New York Times, Wall Street wonders how it lost control, even as the Koch brothers fund the revolution. And both Cruz and Paul are legitimate contenders to lead the fight in 2016.
If you watched Boehner on ABC’s This Week, you saw it all play out in a 10-minute interview with George Stephanopoulos. Boehner conceded that he had made an agreement with Harry Reid months ago to pass a “clean” budget resolution out of the House if Reid agreed to the sequestration numbers. He then said he had to change his mind because of, you know, Obamacare. And now? Obama is the problem because he refuses to have a “conversation,” with him, although Boehner wouldn’t say what the “conversation” would be about because, at this point, there doesn’t seem to be a plan.
Finally, Boehner said the one thing we can all agree on: He has no idea how it’s going to end. What he didn’t say — but must be thinking — is that, however it ends, it can’t end well.
[ Freedom fighters by Maurice Sendak ]