Republicans are at each others’ throats in a way they haven’t been since at least 1964. Republicans disagree about Trump, and they disagree about what they need to do in order to regain power. But those disagreements have very little to do with the decisions the party will face between now and the next presidential campaign. Its position toward a prospective Hillary Clinton administration is so predetermined it is hardly a decision at all. The party will oppose her completely and totally.
Some Republicans blanched at Donald Trump’s outright promise to imprison his opponent if elected. But almost none of them objected to his underlying premise that Clinton is a criminal figure who should be in prison but for the politically motivated decision of the FBI’s Republican director to inexplicably spare her prosecution. That consensus will quickly return to the fore.
Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, boasts to Dave Weigel that he plans to begin multiple years’ worth of investigations into the incoming Clinton presidency. “Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up.” Chaffetz makes clear in his interview that two years truly is a low-ball figure.
He sees numerous examples of Clinton’s corruption, each one of which could inspire 12 months of investigations and hearings on their own. “Every single time we turn around, this puzzle gets more complicated with more pieces to it,” he told Weigel. “That story about the $12 million from Morocco to the Clinton Foundation? You could take any one of these stories and have a year’s worth of investigations.”
So the Republican plan is to consume Clinton’s presidency with an investigative apparatus that will surround her with allegations of corruption, which in turn can enmesh her staff into defensive paranoia that produces cover-ups that in turn produce more grist for additional investigations and hearings. Note that this assumes that Clinton and her staff manage not only to avoid any legitimate scandal — which is difficult for any administration, given the historical frequency of scandals — but also to avoid anything that House Republicans would consider scandalous, which is near impossible. Chaffetz has plans to spend most of Clinton’s term criminalizing her presidency even if her administration is somehow as pure as driven snow. In the far more likely scenario that it isn’t — and, let’s face it, she has surrounded herself with some pretty shady characters before — it will get much, much worse.
The 40-member House Freedom Caucus, which abjures compromise in all forms and habitually goads its leadership into hopelessly aggressive confrontations, is already stirring up a challenge to Paul Ryan’s Speakership. It’s unlikely that the Caucus will actually topple Ryan. What it will do is limit his ability to conduct normal business in the chamber. The intent of the coup threats is to bring the House leadership to heel. Ryan has every incentive to support Chaffetz’s star-chamber strategy and no leeway whatsoever to rein it in. Indeed, Ryan is already praising Chaffetz. Ryan’s office told Weigel that he “supports [Oversight’s] investigative efforts following where the evidence leads.”
The constant churn of scandals will keep the Republican base in a state of perpetual frenzy at the administration’s perfidy, some of which will redound back at the Republican leadership. However far Republicans go, conservatives will be furious they haven’t gone further. Ryan will be facing endless coup threats, and his members the prospect of right-wing primary challenges. The last thing they will want to do is cast votes for Clinton-supported policies. A total boycott on any legislative cooperation will constitute the moderate, responsible Republican position. The “crazy” Republicans will be the ones who demand impeachment or publicly muse about political violence.
Not that any of this would be necessary to prevent cooperation anyway. What Republicans have demonstrated and proved during the Obama era is that bipartisan cooperation is a losing strategy for the out party. As Mitch McConnell explained, if proposals had bipartisan support, it would signal to America that they were unobjectionable, making them, and their president, popular; the president’s popularity would then make it harder for the opposition to gain seats or defeat him in the next election. That dynamic will not change at all with a new Democrat in office. Clinton’s plan to change this dynamic, as Patrick Healy reported in July, is to get Republicans roaring drunk. (“Mrs. Clinton’s ability to use alcohol as a political lubricant came up repeatedly when allies and advisers were asked how she might work with Republicans.”) This is not a promising long-term strategy to induce legislators to act contrary to their political self-interest.
Even suppose Clinton faces the most fantastically positive and unlikely scenario, in which the GOP suddenly reverses its decades-long lurch to the right, ignores its base and the conservative media, and attempts to reposition itself closer to the center. Suppose “reform conservatives” somehow get their hands on the party’s steering wheel. Would they cut deals with Clinton? Hardly. Remember, the main goal of the reform conservatives is to build a platform that Republicans can use to win presidential elections. This objective does not depend on working with Clinton. It actually depends on not working with her. Allowing Republican reform ideas to be seen by the party’s base as tainted by support from Clinton, the evilest and most socialist president in history, would make them poison for any Republican candidate. More important, for a candidate to run on a platform, it needs to have not been enacted into law, because you can’t run on a promise that the incumbent president has already fulfilled.
The Republican Party may have a lot of fights over the next four years: whether to moderate any elements of its platform, how to rebuild its support among minorities and women, whom to nominate for president, and whether to impeach Clinton or merely oppose her. None of the factions has any interest in helping her have a successful presidency.