In the days immediately following the release of the budget deal negotiated between Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), House Speaker John Boehner launched a preemptive attack on conservative and tea party grass roots activists. Saying these groups had “lost all credibility” by attacking a budget deal that hiked federal spending, Boehner was trying to marginalize conservatives and blunt their influence in the debate. He needn’t have bothered. Conservatives were largely absent from the fight over the Ryan-Murray budget. That says more about Republicans, however, than it does about conservatives.
Although the Ryan-Murray budget deal busted through existing spending caps, raised user fees and did nothing meaningful about the deficit or national debt, there was very little organized conservative opposition to the deal. A few groups, like Heritage Action and Freedomworks “key-voted” the deal, meaning that a lawmaker’s vote on the issue would impact their vote rating. Other groups like Americans for Prosperity and Tea Party Patriots, sent alerts to their members in opposition to the deal.
Other than that, it was like the famous Arthur Conan Doyle case where the dog “didn’t bark at midnight.” There were no press-conferences or rallies. The Capitol switchboard didn’t buckle under the weight of thousands of calls of outraged citizens, concerned that Congress was yet again going on a spending binge.
Republican leaders like Paul Ryan may consider themselves lucky that the conservative grass-roots didn’t mobilize against the budget deal, but the reasons behind this are troubling for the Republican party.
“I think there’s a growing sense among the grassroots that no matter what they do, the Republican leadership won’t fight these liberal policies,” Matt Hoskins, Executive Director of the Senate Conservatives Fund told Breitbart News. “They appear to be shifting their focus toward replacing these Republicans with true conservatives in the 2014 primaries.”
The Republican party owes its majority in the House to an historic conservative turnout in 2010. Republican Presidential nominee owes his second place finish in 2012 to an equally historic failure of conservatives to turnout in critical battleground states.
While Republicans are poised for a very strong showing in the midterms next year, attacking the party’s base voters and potentially driving down turnout is a recipe for the party to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Beyond the attacks on conservatives, the party’s return to failed budget negotiations also has the potential to curtail conservative turnout.
“Most folks viewed this for what it was,” Dan Holler, communications director of Heritage Action told Breitbart News about the Ryan budget deal, “a closed-door deal struck by a Republican and Democrat that was never intended to win support of conservatives.”
“Conservatives outside of Washington feel cut out of the process,” Holler continued. “That feeling will carry over into 2014, but they also recognize it is hard to change legislative outcomes if the Speaker is willing to
cast aside conservatives votes in favor of Democrat votes.”
The Republican acceptance of the increased spending in the Ryan-Murray budget deal is not an isolated incident. Business interest groups, like the US Chamber of Commerce have promised to spend millions defeating conservatives in primaries next year.
At a recent fundraiser, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urged defense contractors to fight conservatives in primaries to keep the federal spending spigot open. “The main message he was pushing was: Get involved, mainly to teach those who are primarying incumbents that it is not helpful to run against incumbents who are champions for the industry,” an attendee told the Wall Street Journal.
One veteran lawmaker told Breitbart News that political fatigue was probably a factor in the absence of conservative action on the budget deal. “We’ve had a lot of fights this year,” the lawmaker said. Another source on Capitol Hill said the manner the deal was rushed through Congress and the fact that its the holidays also likely played a part in muting conservative opposition.
There is likely some truth to this. If so, it is the best case scenario for Republicans. More likely, as Holler and Hoskins explained, is that conservatives have given up on current GOP Leadership. If so, Republicans up and down the ballot could get a surprise in upcoming primaries. The Chamber can write big checks, but it can’t walk precincts or drive people to the polls.
The Republican establishment won the battle over the Ryan-Murray budget. It may, however, turn out to be a pyrrhic victory. The party would do well to ask itself, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”