Washington gridlock stems from GOP's civil war

Associated Press

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, arrives at the Capitol in Washington on  Saturday.

We're used to brinkmanship in Washington resulting from conflict between Democrats and Republicans. But this shutdown is different. It's a fight between Republicans and Republicans — or, more specifically, Republicans and the Tea Party.

In 1995 and 1996, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., proudly led Republicans into their shutdown fight with President Bill Clinton. In 2011, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was enthusiastic about using a possible shutdown and default as leverage for Republicans to make good on the promises they'd made in the last election.

But Boehner didn't want this week's shutdown. He didn't want to sign onto the doomed effort of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to defund the Affordable Care Act. Boehner's strategy was to pass a clean bill to fund the government at or near current sequestration levels — a major victory for Republicans, by the way — and then secure additional spending cuts in negotiations over the debt ceiling.

The dysfunctions of the House Republican Conference are often blamed on the so-called Hastert rule. The Hastert rule, which isn't an actual rule, is named after former House speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who famously tried to bring to the floor only bills that had the support of a majority of House Republicans. Boehner has generally followed it, which is why he won't allow the Senate's immigration bill on the floor; it may have the support of a majority of the House, but it doesn't have support from a majority of House Republicans.

What's strange and fascinating about the shutdown debacle, however, is that a majority of House Republicans were with Boehner: They didn't want a shutdown. "Two-thirds want a clean CR," Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told the National Review, using the acronym for a "continuing resolution" to fund the government. "Including some of the people who got elected as tea party candidates from the South. You talk to them, they think this is crazy."

The White House thinks it's crazy, too. "One faction of one party, in one house of Congress, in one branch of government doesn't get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election," President Barack Obama said this week.

The question that's puzzling Washington is how a minority of the majority is managing to dominate the House of Representatives.

Robert Costa, Washington bureau chief for the National Review, estimates that there are only "30 to 40 true hardliners" among House Republicans. He says more than 100 House Republicans are solidly behind Boehner. But Boehner's troops are scared. "Could they stand firm when pressured by the 30 or 40 hardliners and the outside groups?" he asked.

You'd think they could. Or, at the least, you'd think Boehner could. Typically, party leaders protect the mainstream members from the demands of the fringe. They control fundraising and committee assignments and the floor schedule, which gives them substantial power over individual members. And if outside groups want a seat at the table, they need to stay on leadership's good side, which tends to keep them from going too far off the reservation. But the Republican leadership no longer has the strength to play that role. "What we're seeing is the collapse of institutional Republican power," Costa said.

Having previously failed to rally tea party adherents behind him in negotiations over the fiscal cliff, Boehner can no longer serve that function in the House. "Ever since Plan B failed on the fiscal cliff in January and you saw Boehner in near tears in front of his conference, he's been crippled," Costa said.

Boehner faces no plausible threat from traditional conservatives in his conference. They believe he's one of them, they're comforted that he's speaker, and they're generally terrified that a tea partier might replace him if he retires or is pushed out. The threat to Boehner comes from the right of his conference. Consequently, he panders to the fringe; as long as they're happy, he's safe.

Members of the Republican establishment are agog. Cruz "pushed House Republicans into traffic and wandered away," said conservative stalwart Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. But the real problem is that House Republican leaders didn't push back.

The reason the establishment has such trouble with the tea party is that the tea party really, truly means it. They don't want to cut a deal. They don't want to get the most that they reasonably can. Most represent extremely safe Republican districts and don't care about positioning the party as a whole for the next election. Traditional politicians such as Boehner have no playbook for dealing with a powerful faction that's completely uninterested in strategic or pragmatic concerns.

Back in 2011, the Republican establishment was sufficiently in sync with the tea party to harness their recklessness against the Obama administration. Boehner argued that his new members were just wild enough to crash through the debt ceiling and harm the economy, which gave him crucial leverage in his negotiations with the White House.

But then Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election, and the Republican establishment began to alter its approach. The tea party, however, didn't. Now Boehner and other mainstream Republicans dealing with tea party legislators face the same problem Democrats faced in 2011: It's hard to negotiate with people who don't care about, or even really believe in, the consequences of burning the place down.

Boehner's problems aren't such a surprise to Christopher Parker, a political scientist at the University of Washington and co-author of "Change They Can't Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America." In 2011, Parker began running massive surveys of self-described conservatives in 13 states. He controlled for every demographic characteristic and political opinion he could think of. Tea partiers, he found, were simply different from other conservatives. In one telling example, 71 percent of tea party conservatives agreed Obama was "destroying the country" — an opinion shared by only 6 percent of conservatives who didn't identify with the tea party.

On measure after measure, tea party members expressed fear that the country was changing in fundamental ways. They were much likelier to view Obama as a literal threat to the nation. They were more conspiratorial in their interpretation of politics. They viewed politics as less like a negotiation among stakeholders and more like a struggle for survival.

"You've got about 52 members of the Republican conference who are affiliated with the Tea Party in some official way," Parker said. "That's a bit less than a quarter of all House Republicans. That's enough in the House. They refuse to compromise because, to them, compromise is capitulation. If you go back to Richard Hofstadter's work when he's talking about when the John Birch Society rode high, he talks about how conservatives would see people who disagree as political opponents, but reactionary conservatives saw them as evil. You can't capitulate to evil."

The problem for Boehner and the rest of the Republican establishment is that the tea party ethos is now being turned against them. After all, mainstream conservatives will compromise with "evil" (or, if you prefer, "Democrats"). For tea partiers, that makes them suspect, too. In fact, one way tea party Republicans can prove they haven't sold out to Washington's ways is by opposing any compromise Boehner proposes.

The conventional wisdom in American politics used to be that Republicans followed their leaders while Democrats were barely unified enough to be considered an organized political party. Today, the reverse is true. Democrats largely follow their leaders while Republicans have splintered into two distinct political groups that uneasily share a single party.

That's the real challenge complicating the shutdown and the debt ceiling. The problem isn't that Boehner and Obama can't reach an agreement. It's that Boehner and Obama and the tea party can't.

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Bring the rebellion on!

Bring the rebellion on!

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture


Just a little spilled blood will solve it, innocent folks get mowed over by zealots,,,Go for it!

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture


to your comment, Ms Libbey

FRANK EARLEY's picture

A very well learned lesson........

Even thirty years ago, whenever I went south, I never discussed politics. You go to places like Alabama, West by-god Virginia, or Texas, speaking or discussing politics is a contact sport.
From a very early age, I've always had a certain distrust of anyone from south of Washington DC. That distrust had nothing to do with politics, just a damn fool I once had as a roommate in New Hampshire. It's carried over though into politics with this quagmire of a Republican Party, destroying this country, and in true "Good ol Boy" fashion, blaming it on everyone else. I truly hope I don't see Ted Cruz giving anymore interviews on TV. I've only got two TV's left.
I say we should start treating these Tea Party extremists, just as the terrorists they are. If we had an Afghan terrorist cell trying to disrupt the economy of the US, wouldn't the Marines be raising holy hell? I say outlaw the Tea Party. Then again It would never work, It would never make it past the House.................

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Hot damn, when are those

Hot damn, when are those Disagree buttons coming back?

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Look Again

You just did disagree.....and we know it was you!

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Oh, yeah...I forgot...that's

Oh, yeah...I forgot...that's really important.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Keeps participants

honest, as who and why you might agree or disagree, instead of just clicking radio buttons all day.....keeps the conversation and dialogue going with those that can provide facts instead of just leaving nothing .

It keeps the cowards away, who really have nothing to say or anything to add....

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

DISAGREE...Hey,it works.

DISAGREE...Hey,it works.

Bob White's picture

Or maybe they just work for a

Or maybe they just work for a living. I know that is becoming a thing of the past in this Country.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

You got THAT right.

You got THAT right.

From my yearbook, 1981

This is not a photoshop. Collegiate Schools, 1981, his senior photo. Pretty well sums up Congress in general.

(not sure this will come through since I'm haven't embedded a pic before)

Trying again for those who

Trying again for those who don't want a ckicky... (didn't realize what I'd forgotten about tags)

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Simply, Primaried fear of the bagger bombs on their face

The question that's puzzling Washington is how a minority of the majority is managing to dominate the House of Representatives.

On a Monday last month, Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, met with some top GOP donors for lunch at Le Cirque on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan.

“Listen,” Walden said, according to several people present. “We have to do this because of the Tea Party. If we don’t, these guys are going to get primaried and they are going to lose their primary.”

Walden asked how many of those seated around the table were precinct captains. These were money men, though, not the types to spend night after night knocking on doors and slipping palm cards into mailboxes.

“A lot of the people there didn't even know what a precinct captain was,” said one attendee.

Not a single hand went up.

“I hear this complaint all the time,” Walden said. “But no one gets involved at the local level.

Zeidman, a Houston-based businessman who was a major donor to both of George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns. “The way we are handling this has been a mistake from the beginning. I think we misread where the country was.”

“The Tea Party is not looking at the big picture,” he said. “In the long run it will have deleterious effects on the whole party when we could have taken the high road. There is so much going on right now with Obamacare, and no one is saying a word about it.”

“I am not writing a check to anyone,” he added. “That is not working for the American people.”


Thelma and Louise

The Republicans have pretty much taken the same road. If they don't get their way they will go over the cliff and take the rest of the country with them. As for the democrats they are not the ones who signed a pledge months ago to use the budget and the ceiling to shut down the government and they are not the ones to make a 21 hour harangue about the evils of government and green eggs. So I don't buy that they are equally responsible. When a woman is being battered her batterer will often say it is her fault because supper was late. But truth be told if it had not been a late supper it would have been something else she did. If the Republicans were not shutting the government over the ACA, they would use something else. They have made it plain all along they hate the federal government and want to shut it down. It appears they are ready for a new Confederate rebellion.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Claire ? We love you •

Claire ? We love you • Stars and bars ? No †yvm . ..
Washington gridlock stems from GOP's civil war
Civil war is oxymoronic
/s Steve

Claudette Therriault's picture

If the GOP can't get along

If the GOP can't get along within their own party, how can we expect Congress to make decisions?

 's picture

There is no such thing as a

There is no such thing as a clean CR. A continuing resolution is just another way of saying lets spend 8% more than we did last year without looking at any possible waste, fraud, and mis-management. This country is broke and as soon as the rest of the world realizes it and stops giving us money the game is up. Start cutting the budget everywhere.

Ezra Kline is a big lib, whos

Ezra Kline is a big lib, whos pro Obama. He's not a independent journalist. The real problem isn't the Tea Party, its career politicians and a Chicago thug in the Whitehouse.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Dennis ? 08:10 Bethel

Dennis ? 08:10 Bethel time
He's Hawai'ian . Like Dog , Lee & April
Read his birth certificate
Alo'ha from Pahoa HI 96778 usa ( sometimes )
/s , Steve :D
" When are we gonna' convert our money in to Hawai'ian money ?" -- Jeff Foxworthy , 1 9 9 2
http://www.twincitytimes.com <- you local right wing rag


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