One common takeaway from the tax deal is that the Republican party rejected the “ideology” of its extreme right wing. But there’s little evidence of any real ideological split within the Republican Party — certainly not between figures like John Boehner or Mitch McConnell and their right-wing members. All of them hew to completely orthodox positions on taxes (Bad, especially on the rich) and spending (on the military, Good, on poor people, Bad, on retirement programs, Bad, unless we’re talking about Democratic-proposed cuts, in which case it’s Good.)
The differences between the mainstream figures and the crazies seem to lie almost entirely in tactics. The mainstream Republicans have a decent grasp of the possibilities and constraints of political power, and can formulate rational plans to obtain their goals. (John Boehner’s Plan B was a shrewd gambit to try to split Congressional Democrats from the Obama administration and whittle down the size of the unavoidable tax hike.) The crazies don’t understand any of those things.
That’s why House Republicans spent the last two months in a state of frenzied outrage over their leadership’s inability to stop a tax increase that was already written into law. It’s also why John Boehner placated right-wing anger by telling his members that he will no longer hold one-on-one negotiations with President Obama. “He is recommitting himself and the House to what we’ve done, which is working through regular order and letting the House work its will,” an aide to the speaker told the Hill.
This is insane on at least two different levels. The first is that, if Republicans don’t like current levels of taxes and spending, they can alter those levels if and only if Obama signs a law changing them. If you pass laws Obama doesn’t agree to, he won’t sign them, or possibly they will die in the Senate before even reaching Obama. It’s true that the House could pursue an alternative strategy of refusing to fund the government at all and shutting the whole thing down for as long as Republicans control the House. But they don’t intend to do that. So they need to pass laws that Obama signs. And the way to find out what he’ll sign is to, you know, ask him.
Second, and even stranger, if Republicans don’t like the tax deal — an opinion I find kind of nutty on its own terms — it is bizarre that their response is to prevent future one-on-one negotiations because those negotiations did not produce the deal. Boehner did pull out of negotiations with Obama. There was no deal between them. So instead Obama cut a deal with the Senate, and then jammed it through the House.
Now, if House Republicans like that result, they should continue with their no-negotiations method. But since they don’t like the result, it seems very strange that their angry reaction to it is to demand that the process that led to such an allegedly awful outcome continue. If you think your leader is being forced to accept terrible deals, then maybe you should figure out what deal you can accept and have him negotiate that. Then if you decide the default standoff alternative is better than whatever he negotiates, you can actually decide to vote it down, rather than having a last-minute panic stampede.
Part of this Republican aversion to negotiating with Obama seems to arise from some misplaced personal anger at the president that is manifesting itself in affection for Joe Biden. Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin heartily endorses the no-negotiation-with-Obama line in the sand, instead urging the party to deal with good ol’ Biden:
The question remains whether, after two failed attempts and much bad blood spilled, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will insist on the same fruitless one-on-one meetings with the president. Frankly, it would be far more productive to meet, if he insists on meeting with the White House, with Vice President Biden.
Do Republicans think Biden is authorizing deals that Obama won’t agree to? How is Rogue Biden tricking Obama into signing these compromises he opposes?
(Also, as an aside, Rubin’s use of “frankly” merits a brief diversion, as it is perhaps her most characteristic and revealing literary tic. She uses the term all the time. She will note her frankness about such things as Mitt Romney’s debating skills — “Romney, frankly, has been at his best”— Romney’s rosy victory prospects — “Frankly, as things are, he stands a good chance of winning”— the appropriateness of a Romney birth certificate joke — “Frankly, in the age of political correctness when the average person is censored and harassed by the indignant police, Romney may have finally seemed downright human” — and many, many other topics. Now, blogging is a demanding profession that taxes any writer’s capacity to churn out fresh prose. But here is the thing: “Frankly” is the kind of qualifier that makes sense coming from a politician who is naturally expected to be operating under message discipline. It makes sense for such a figure to signal, even disingenuously, that they are making a refreshing departure from the exigencies of spin to share their honest opinion. It’s not the sort of thing you’re supposed to say as a political commentator because frankness is supposed to be your job description.)
Anyway. Some frank advice for Republicans: Keeping your leaders from meeting with Obama isn’t going to make them pass laws you like more.