House Republican explains party’s ‘goal’

HOUSE REPUBLICAN EXPLAINS PARTY’S ‘GOAL’…. What’s that line about “Michael Kinsley Moments”? As I recall it’s when politicians commit a gaffe by accidentally telling the truth.

“We will lose on legislation. But we will win the message war every day, and every week, until November 2010,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., an outspoken conservative who has participated on the GOP message teams. “Our goal is to bring down approval numbers for [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and for House Democrats. That will take repetition. This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

The quote certainly won’t surprise anyone who’s paid any attention to the House Republican caucus over the last several years. Of course their goal is to bring down Democrats’ approval numbers. Of course they’re more concerned with winning the daily “message war” than shaping public policy.

But as Greg Sargent explained, McHenry’s candor nevertheless has salience for Democrats on the Hill: “It’s likely that Dems will grab on to the quote today to bolster their charge that Congressional Republicans aren’t interested in playing a constructive role in governing and see their hope for political revival in the eventual failure of the Democratic majority’s policies.”

Quite right. Most of the time, Republican leaders will maintain the fiction, at least in public, that they’re serious about good-faith negotiations with the majority party. They’ll say how willing they are to engage in a constructive debate, with the goal being improved public policy.

But once in a while, they’ll drop the facade. We hear one GOP lawmaker say the party will emulate the insurgency tactics of the Taliban. We hear another say the party should position itself as “freedom fighters” taking on the “slide toward socialism.” We hear another say the party’s principal “goal” is to bring down Democrats’ poll numbers.

As a practical matter, if Congress and the White House work together to pass meaningful and popular legislation, voters will be pleased and Democrats’ approval ratings will probably improve. As such, if we take McHenry at his word, Republicans can’t be constructive, they necessarily have to be destructive.

Again, I can appreciate why all of this seems to be in the water-is-wet category for obviousness, but it’s a reminder of why Democratic leaders are making a mistake if they plan on looking to the minority party as credible and sincere governing partners. As Joe Klein recently argued, the president “should have no illusions about the good faith of his opponents.”