Activist conservatives are high-hoping that they can defeat John Boehner in his bid, later today, to be Speaker of the House in the 113th Congress.
It’s possible that a libertarian-tea party alliance -- inside and outside the Republican conference -- can knock over Boehner, but here’s some reality. It’s bitter reality, to be sure, but reality nonetheless: Boehner is as good as it gets, at least for now. Republicans first have to rebuild and regroup, and that’s not going to get done if GOPers instead indulge in ideological fratricide.
A case in point was the January 1 vote on the “fiscal cliff,” in which the House was confronted with the question of whether or not to pass the legislation that had passed the Senate 89:8.
Boehner was quietly in favor of the Senate bill; his idea was to get the fiscal cliff monkey off the GOP back and move on to other issues. He knew that if the House failed to pass the bill, all blame for the consequences of fiscal cliff diving -- including a tax increase on all income-tax payers -- would fall squarely and exclusively on Republican shoulders. The Democrats and the MSM would make sure of that.
And yet, for a while there in those tense hours, it seemed as if the House would revolt against Boehner and vote down the bill.
Fox News’ Brit Hume -- a solid conservative, and also a thoughtful conservative -- sounded the warning to Republicans, that that they were in danger of stepping into the abyss. In a tweet, he warned, “Appears the House GOP's pie-in-the-sky caucus will blow up the deal, leaving new higher tax rates in place and assuring Rs get all blame.”
Hume was right. Republicans were dealt a bad hand, but they still had to play the game.
To be sure, most Republicans still voted against the bill, but many of them voted “nay” only after they were sure that it would, in fact, pass.
And so Republicans dodged a bullet. The bullet of blame, that is, for everything that might have gone wrong with the economy in the days thereafter, whether or not it truly had anything to do with the fiscal cliff vote.
Meanwhile, Democrats see their opening. Our friends at Politico, always well plugged in to what the Democrats are thinking, have a new piece: “Dems to run against ‘chaos’ in ’14." And the Democrats have a point: Republicans have rebuilding to do. They have to show that they can offer thoughtful critiques of Obama/Democratic policies before they can indulge in the luxury of legislative brinksmanship.
Ah, but conservatives say, we have a plan. We will run against spending.
Okay, now let's see here about that. The Congress, both parties, just happily voted for $30 billion in new unemployment spending -- with no “offsets,” that is, no cuts elsewhere in spending. And it's about to vote billions more for Hurricane Sandy -- again with no offsets. And we might note that these additional spending measures were/will be enacted with no real complaints from the general public. Yes, the Club for Growth is furious, and so are conservative direct mail kings, but they never face the voters.
Meanwhile, maybe we're going to intervene in Syria to stop WMDs -- nobody will even begin to think about offsets for that. Who knows -- maybe we’ll bomb Iran; that’s expensive, too.
And of course, there are the usual 3:1 majorities against entitlement cuts, viz. the idea of chain-weighted CPI (sounds like a horror movie!), which lasted about four hours the other night when McConnell proposed it.
Finally, federal borrowing costs are in negative territory.
There's plenty of ammo for attacking Obama, with the hope of making the 2014 midterms another 1938, but that would require a strategy, e.g. pointing out what we could be doing now, but are not doing. That means new Republican ideas on, for example, education -- Khan Academy, anyone? It’s free! Imagine if Republicans were campaigning on a huge cut in education spending for bureaucrats, even as education itself got better.
Instead, a simple attack on spending is a formula for making the '14 midterms into a replay of the 1934 midterms.
Speaking of strategies: If GOP tries to go Tea Party again, the Democrats will happily use Chris Christie, Peter King, some GOP governors, and other Northern Republicans to hammer this point home in '14 -- Republicans = chaos.
Yes, the GOP can mobilize Dixie and Idaho for spending cuts, and maybe somewhere along the line replace Boehner, but it will come at the expense of looking like a national party. And of course, spending will not be cut.